By Ernest Bey
As I’ve watched the health care debate roll through Congress I‘ve carried a secret fear of a corporate bait and switch. One good thing added, one bad thing added, one good thing added, one good thing taken away, until what is left is a bitter pill. This is exactly what happened to the Employee Free Choice Act, a proposal long overdue to strengthen organized labor in America. The centerpiece of the legislation would have allowed workers to organize a union by signing a card, and once a majority of employees was reached the union was installed.
As it stands today, a vote is called for and the employer has six weeks to six months to intimidate, scare and threaten workers into voting against the union. The Employee Free Choice Act died the death of a thousand cuts with the final insult being the removal of the card check provision. The bill was eviscerated by the same Democratic politicians who today labor to turn health care reform into corporate welfare. Barack Obama, during his campaign, spoke very specifically about the Employee Free Choice Act saying, “If it crosses my desk I’ll sign it.”
Once elected the President said not one word as the bill was gutted and hollowed out by his fellow Democrats. I began ask myself whether the President took his eye off the ball, or if a Democratic majority in Congress doesn’t mean all that much, or even more cynically that candidate Obama just said it to get elected and didn’t give a fat rat’s ass about the Employee Free Choice Act. “If” was the operative word in the President’s statement; if a frog had wings it wouldn’t bump its ass.
The waters of Democracy compromised lose their currents and channel themselves into wandering, meandering streams of personal power and privilege, ending in waste pools overgrown with silt and scum. These become the birthplace of radicalism and the burial site of conventional faith. I was recently reading about the Hopi Native Americans, and in their beliefs there are times when the Earth is overthrown. All of those who are at one with the Earth survive, and all of those not at one with the Earth are done away with. For some reason that made me think of Cromwell, his Republican government that was going to bring efficiency and an end to favoritism and divine birthright. Then how quickly it devolved into a dictatorship with new favoritism and new inefficiencies.
It was England’s parliamentary history and established democratic institutions that allowed her to quickly recover. Across the channel France’s first attempt at a Republican government ended in the guillotine and world war, awash in blood and a bankrupted treasury until there was no one left who even knew how to govern.
I began to listen carefully to the verbiage the President was using, and I became even more cynical because it appeared to me that the President was serving up Republican cake with Democratic icing. Every program had a Republican spin, and as the economy tanked it took on a Hooveresque quality. Money for Wall Street but little for Main Street. “I will not tell GM where or when to open factories.” In 1932 Franklin Roosevelt took a two billion dollar fund set up by Hoover to make loans to banks and industries and redirected to refinance mortgages. He did that with an executive order, this is what you will do and you will start doing it today.
The move gave hope to the struggling masses and confidence to struggling institutions that someone was doing something. “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction. Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.” (John Kennedy)
Just yesterday the House passed a one hundred and fifty billion dollar jobs bill laced with more tax cuts and unemployment extensions but doing little more than trying to nudge the dog from in front of the fireplace with a toe. On the same day, on the same hour the House passed a six hundred and fifty billion dollar military appropriation. Can you say guns and margarine?
The new funding includes allocations for the new fifty thousand! Yes, that is right, I said fifty thousand. The President, in his speech asking for thirty thousand more American servicemen to go to Afghanistan, somehow forgot to mention an expected increase of between twenty six thousand and fifty thousand more contractors.
Senator John Kerry has been advocating for six and a half billion dollars to rebuild homes and schools in Pakistan. How about a six and half billion dollar program to repair American homes with government backed, zero interest loans?
There are a thousand programs like that which could be implemented if Congress had the slightest interest in trying. Instead they throw platitudes and raw fish and wish us well and have a safe trip. The cluelessness in Washington cannot be measured until they hit the rocks and then it will be too late. The Republicans had it all going their way until President Bush proposed privatizing Social Security. It was their high water mark but the failure was only a black eye. Had the bill passed and the stock market crashed, millions of seniors would be hungry and cold tonight, and Republican would be the vilest thing that a senior could think to call their enemies.
If the health care bill passes in its current form, millions of independents and young Americans will never, ever vote for another Democratic candidate as long as the grass grows or the rivers flow. I’ve long heard from loyalists, “You’d prefer John McCain and Sarah Palin, I suppose?” As if it is either/or, and all I can answer is, if it is a bad plan under a Republican administration, what is the same Republican plan under a Democratic administration? It is corrosive. I want Democrats to act like Democrats and to stop acting like Republicans, and if it splits the party then so be it! There are times when the Earth is overthrown. All of those who are at one with the Earth survive and all of those not at one with the Earth are done away with.
This is not so hard as it may appear; FDR was quick to open WPA camps in friendly and supportive districts. Why would he be in a hurry to open them in non-supportive districts? They didn’t want them in the first place. Politics is about compromise but also about arm-twisting. We are at a moment in time where our politicians must stand or leap and there is no middle ground. The President was elected because the American public was tired of right wing politics. Will he ever earn even one Republican vote? He now stands on the cusp of losing the left and when he loses the left he has only independents who blow in the wind to support him.
Failure is not an option, but it is a possibility. Is the President a great speaker and a poor leader? Or is the President just badly advised and surrounded by cabinet chairs that always advise him of the corporate path? Or is the President a Trojan horse, a corporate front man with a smiling ethnic face that has no more interest in supporting Democratic policies than a cat has in wearing pajamas?
FDR, in a genius of brevity, was able to sum up his presidency in one line: “I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made.”
He, too, assumed the Presidency in a time of great social upheaval, when there was mistrust of both parties. There was a rise in radical parties and radical thinking as Roosevelt fought both the left and the right. But Roosevelt never suggested that tax cuts for the wealthy would save us. Nor did he ever propose that more money and easy credit for the banks would save us. “If we can boondoggle ourselves out of this depression, that word is going to be enshrined in the hearts of the American people for years to come.” (Franklin Roosevelt)
He would succeed or fail as a Democrat. He did not kowtow or give in to the Republicans; he ran through them, over them, or around them until the courts stopped him, and then he began again. He was not afraid to make mistakes or admit a program a failure. “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” (FDR)
President Obama ran for office on the slogan of Hope and Change, and so far all we have seen is more of the same. A center right, moderate Republican administration with more akin to Bush than dissimilar from him. This President is on the path to take the Democratic party to where the Republican party is now. Not because he is a bad leader but because he is a bad Republican leader. A Republican wearing the coat of a Democrat. If this administration fails it will be Democrats who suffer and Democratic ideals, which will be discounted as tried and failed, when they haven’t yet been tried at all.
Decades ago words were written to be a call and a spur to the faithful servants of Truth and Justice: "Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation and our altar. As the Will of God is in Heaven, even so let it be." (Winston Churchill)
It is time for Barack Obama to arm himself and show us who he is willing to fight with and who he is willing to fight for. Democracy its self may depend on the outcome.
By David Glenn Cox