Against Simplistic Politics and Bureaucratic Politicians: How Both Parties Avoid Working-Class Issues

"Simplistic" by Judy Van Der Velden on flickr

"Simplistic" by Judy Van Der Velden on flickr

The last two Democratic administrations have seen the advancement of a Yale lawyer (Bill Clinton) and a Harvard lawyer (Barack Obama) to the presidency, so some will say running for president should now be part of any decent Ivy League lawyer’s job description.  In between the two administrations was George W. Bush’s administration, an Harvard M.B.A. who can now claim credit for pioneering the influence of schools of business administration in the nation’s affairs.  Now they can do for government what they previously did for big corporations, give them the proper rhetoric on how to rationalize being big and clumsy and bureaucratically inept – but they’re giant oligopolies so who cares, certainly not the stockholders or now the citizens!  Or haven’t you noticed as banks get bigger their customer service standards get smaller?

This issue of even the presidency becoming a mere bureaucratic sinecure within a giant oligopoly came to my attention when pondering the recent push by Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin to greatly weaken collective bargaining by civil service employees.  There has been discussion in the media of this producing an opportunity for Democratic resurgence in the politics in that state, when Republican contempt for union membership produces a state-wide backlash.   Or will it?  Unfortunately, political avoidance of working-class issues is not a Republican monopoly.

By the way, what prevents union leaders from themselves running for public office, for example for Gov. Walker’s job, rather than endlessly getting on their knees and begging crass politicians to help them?  Oh yes, running for office makes the careers of lawyers more valuable even when they lose, they then at least can be lobbyists, while it fits into the careers of almost no other profession. So that’s why there are so many lawyers in office. Now that’s still a pitiful reason why union leaders don’t put their money where there mouths are, and run for office.  But I digress.

I was talking not long ago with someone with contacts to the union movement in Wisconsin.  I asked him how could Gov. Walker get away with his attacking collective bargaining by civil servant unions.  I was told that only Milwaukee and Madison vote Democratic.  The rest of the state votes Republican.

It’s not that there are no working-class people in the small towns of Wisconsin.  It’s that they don’t consider the Democrats to be serving the interests of working-class people there either.  The bait-and-switch tactics of Republican leadership who claim they support small companies and entrepreneurs, the lifeblood of small towns, and then in action they become the lackeys of big business, those perpetual rivals to small business, hasn’t prevented some small town people from hoping that some day the Republicans will have actions that match their promises.  Hope does spring eternal.
But even they have noticed that just because Democratic politicians typically get energized to support the interests of certain workers in certain industries, in this case civil servants, doesn’t mean they will spend much political capital to help poorly-paid workers in industries not already represented by strong unions.  They, and the firms they work for, are not bailed-out by government when they get into trouble, unlike the big banks and big auto makers, whom both Republicans and Democrats genuflect to.

Thus the Democrats, as well as the Republicans, talk a good show, but still mostly avoid the hard decisions that because they cost serious money would seriously impact working-class lives, and which even more frightening to politicians, would require standing up to big business.  Instead for both major political parties, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Perhaps that is why President Obama, our latest in a line of Presidents as Bureaucrats-in-Chief, has declined in taking on big business to any great degree, has not questioned their control of the economy, and has assumed that what increases the profits of big business will automatically trickle-down into the pockets of workers.  Thus he is still relying on tiny, little incremental changes in the economy, and trickle-down economics.  Well, it’s still trickling, and while big business is making record profits, the maldistribution in income is the worst it’s been ever since right before the Great Depression.  I imagine it’s going to get worse.

Looking for a pattern?   Despite warnings about potential loss of American jobs, Bill Clinton never questioned the possible effects of N.A.F.T.A. in producing a culture of outsourcing that has continued unabated to this day.  Also he continued the tradition that what is good for Wall Street is good for average workers (read: economic bubble, then crash), Then Barack Obama offered health care reform that did not address the excessive power of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.  As for the Republicans, they still promise that helping big business is the same as helping small business, which just shows they need a new pair of rose-colored glasses.  Both parties at present are just not particularly interested in addressing working-class issues, as they seek to make easy promises to crucial swing voter constituencies, while still ignoring their base of average working stiffs, who are stuck with them.

Let’s speculate about what the future will bring, leading up to the next presidential election.  Will the Democrats seek to gain Hispanic voters by promising an easy amnesty for undocumented immigrants, which is easy to do because it is based on not doing anything, as opposed to facing the serious issue of integrating the Hispanic immigrant population into the economy at a time of high unemployment, which involves getting control over our borders?  Will they take the easy way out?  Probably.

Will the Democrats try to integrate the African-American population of our inner cities into the economy, or will they offer affirmative action for a few professional positions as a substitute?  Probably.  That way they can point with pride at an integrated upper class now marching hand in hand to their gated communities as they lock the doors behind them.  Change you can believe in?  So far – not!

Meanwhile the Republicans consider moral harshness to be their version of sympathy for the poor, the kind of tough love that sympathizes with the unborn until they are born, and hardly afterwards.  One gets the impression Republican anti-abortion zealots consider returning America to the large, poor families of 100 years ago, but without the support of large, extended families or sympathetic communities, in other words with no help to face the realities of modern-style slums, to be their version of progress.  Meanwhile there are some Democratic activists who still can’t figure out how to help the poor not to be so poor, but think legalizing marijuana, setting up casinos in all big city centers, and perhaps licensing brothels to be installed next door to them, to be a good stopgap measure in fighting poverty (or creating poverty, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference), as their version of progress.

So while extremists and lobbyists of both the left and the right continue to burrow into both major parties, the poor still stagnate and are still poor.  Is it any wonder that the working class of the rural areas, often newly poor because of the recent recession, and the working class of inner-city slums, old poor for a few generations now, and it looks like now for a few more, still don’t form alliances?  The first group think Republicans will help, and the second still beg favors from Democrats.  When will either party have a truly working-class agenda?  Time will tell.  Though the time to make major changes in direction in preparation for the next presidential election, to actually have a working-class agenda by either party, is running out.

We can start by encouraging  job creation and entrepreneurialism both through government spending, and by enforcement of anti-trust laws to really encourage private enterprise as a way to encourage job growth in both the rural and the urban areas.  We can also use the Federal budget crisis to really cut waste, such as our bloated military-industrial complex which acts as if World War II never ended and now looks for new wars to fight in, and encourages an economy dependant on the arms trade, as well as all the corporate welfare and their tax loopholes that have accumulated over the years. In other words we can try to get the Democrats and Republicans to combine their approaches, as opposed to serving as lackeys and lobbyists for swing voters and special interests, while ignoring the working-class heart of America.

We can aim to give working-class voters, in both the urban and rural areas, a choice, and not an echo.  I mean by that choices that don’t echo the choices of lobbyists.  We can work toward the common good, a phrase (res publica or common good from which the word republic derives) that has lost its meaning over the years, basically from lack of use.  We can remember where we came from, and what we once stood for.  Or we can have politics as usual.

Jerome Braun

Jerome Braun

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