Good morning, news junkies!
Last Saturday, I rounded up some headlines state-by-state, in solidarity. Well, it’s time to supersize: This Saturday is set for a 50-State Solidarity March. MoveOn.org has organized gatherings, dubbed “Rally to Save the American Dream,” in front of every statehouse and in every major city, at noon local time today, to stand in solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin.
I don’t know about you, but a 50-state solidarity has my attention in a way that Dr. Dean’s 50-state strategy–to court “socially conservative economic moderates”–never did.
I’m not the biggest fan of MoveOn, given their timidity in the age of Obama, but if today’s rallies are the start of a concerted effort by everyone involved to–as Krugman and Wells put it at the start of the year–“delink their political fate from Obama,” then more power to ’em.
Okay, so let me get started with my offerings to go with your morning brew.
New Deal 2.0’s Lynn Parramore put out a great read this week about Coolidge, Reagan, and Governor Walker, in response to the revisionist anti-union propaganda being promulgated by Amity Shlaes and other rightwing hacks.
Shlaes’ narrative is a hoot. According to this rightwing propaganda, Coolidge put himself on the national map by crushing unions and firing striking police officers in Massachusetts, which turned him into a hero and real man of the people. Soon enough Coolidge becomes Harding’s VP (Shlaes says that like it’s a good thing!) and then president himself. Union membership went down, and so did joblessness… apparently the birds started singing, the sun was shining…as Parramore quips, the way Shlaes tells it, it was “Morning in America” again. Thus, the code words “Boston Police” cemented the American principle that union causes do not trump others.
Are these people insane?
The money quote from Parramore’s response to Shlaes:
Coolidge got to the White House for crushing unions, where he slept ten hours a day and hopped on and off a mechanical horse in his underpants and a cowboy hat.
Here’s what America got: the Great Depression.
Between Shlaes and Glenn Beckistan, I wonder how much more warped the conservative reading of history is going to get. I’m sure it can *get* much worse, since there is no depth they won’t sink to (for the latest proof on that, see the Nebraska bill that would effectively legalize murder of abortion providers).
Still, it’s hard to imagine *how* their reading can get much worse. Harding and Coolidge were horrible presidents, remembered for corruption and corporate cronyism. The Harding and Coolidge “prosperity” of the roaring twenties existed side-by-side with quiet desperation, evidenced by the growing phenomenon of Hoovervilles. Is this really the history the right wanted to remind us of while we watch the current-day battle over unions play out? If the Republican overreach to annihilate public worker unions is astonishing, the conservative attempts to brand this move as Coolidgesque are utterly inexplicable.
(Then again, we live in an era where creative class progressives–the operative word there being creative–think Obama, an ostensibly Democratic president, being Reagan’s true heir is something to brag about. I’m reminded here too of the Heritage Foundation’s newfound interest in heeding the admonitions of FDR. We live in topsy-turvy times. But, more on that later.)
Parramore goes on to say:
Intuiting correctly that the public may not be on their side in this battle, conservatives have relentlessly pushed the deceptive idea that public employees enjoy higher salaries and better benefits than their private-sector counterparts. But this has been widely debunked. Careful research has shown that when you adjust for skill levels, public sector workers are not overpaid relative to private sector pay scales.
It’s the age old scapegoat story of the Little Guy falling for the lie that everything is the fault of the even Littler Guy, while the Too Big to Fails laugh all the way to the bank.
More from Parramore:
Governor Walker says he’s fighting for ordinary Americans. So why does he want to require unions to re-certify every year, but we don’t hear a peep about corporations being required to renew their charters every year? Why does he want to control the salaries of public employees, but doesn’t have any interest in controlling the salaries of grossly overcompensated corporate CEOs? Why does he call for sacrifices from hard-working people who have been screwed by the economy through no fault of their own, and none from the financiers who caused the crisis?
Maybe it’s because he has quite a bit in common with Coolidge and Reagan after all. In Reagan’s case, as in Coolidge’s, union-busting led to some of the biggest peacetime income re-distributions in modern history. Democracy got weaker, oligopolies got stronger, the rich got richer, and the rest of us got left behind.
I was born a couple months after Reagan took office, so all I’ve ever seen is “democracy getting weaker, oligopolies growing stronger, the rich getting richer, and the rest of us getting left behind.”
Except, of course, for that dreadful “pause” called the “Clinton nineties.” I so much prefer Obama’s rewinding back to Reagan over that icky pausing thing. Thanks for that,
creative clueless class!
But, I digress. Parramore concludes:
The real lesson from Coolidge and Reagan is this: If Governor Walker and his Republican friends are allowed to crush the public unions, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
My takeaway from all of this is if Republicans want to follow in the footsteps of Coolidge and the Democrats want to follow in the footsteps of Reagan, perhaps we should all just call our efforts to secure all these human ‘luxuries’ we’ve been fighting for (i.e. jobs, food, shelter, education, healthcare, collective bargaining, etc.) a real nice try, declare it’s time for an “orderly transition,” and get in line at our local soup kitchens. Why prolong the inevitable. We need to do this as orderly as possible so we can ensure maximum “stability” for the too-big-to-fails!
Sorry to get so sardonic on a solidarity Saturday, but this is what we’re up against. We’re only to listen to FDR when it’s to crush unions, and both wings (D and R) of our Corporate party are chasing the corporate welfare ghosts of Coolidge and Reagan. It’s a good thing the Oscars are tomorrow, because bread and circuses is all we have left.
Anyhow, be sure to read the rest of Parramore’s piece when you get a chance. It’s a meaty and satisfying read.
There’s more, so go get your morning cuppa refilled, and then click to continue.
Now, I’d like to return to the point about FDR for a bit. Earlier this week, the Heritage Foundation declared, “FDR warned us.” Whence all this conservative respect for FDR’s admonitions?
You know what? Mother Jones (the labor activist, not the magazine) didn’t support women’s suffrage either. She thought the movement for a woman’s right to vote was a diversion and would distract women from worker’s rights. If we’re going to rollback collective bargaining rights, I suppose we should add “repeal 19th Amendment” onto the agenda, too!
Our political icons on the left were ahead of their times in many ways, but they couldn’t be ahead of their time in every way.
Salon’s Andrew Leonard did an interview with labor historian Jay McCartin last week on “Why FDR would support the Wisconsin protests,” so you can go knock yourself out reading that if you’re really that concerned with what FDR would do in the year 2011. The truth is we can’t say with absolute certainty that FDR would fall on this side of the line or the other, but given the change in Democratic attitudes toward public worker unions by the 1950s, and given the larger body of FDR’s writings and remarks on workers’ rights, it’s difficult to imagine that he’d be giving any sort of fireside chat in support of Governor Walker.
The same FDR that rightwingers have found a need to suddenly breathlessly quote also said nobody wants to give up rights that have been achieved. From his fireside chat on April 28th, 1935:
No reasonable person wants to abandon our present gains — we must continue to protect children, to enforce minimum wages, to prevent excessive hours, to safeguard, define and enforce collective bargaining, and, while retaining fair competition, to eliminate so far as humanly possible, the kinds of unfair practices by selfish minorities which unfortunately did more than anything else to bring about the recent collapse of industries.
And if we want to be fiscally responsible in tough times, we shouldn’t be giving big fat tax cuts to the upper crust who got us into the mess in the first place, either!
Far more relevant than what FDR thought about a right that had not been realized yet is the big picture FDR “warned us” of :
- “We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.”
- “Necessitous men are not free men.”
- “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”
- “America’s own rightful place in the world” and its “security” “depends in large part” on “how fully” our “rights”…
- “to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation,”
- “to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health,”
- “to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment”
…are “carried into practice for all our citizens.”
What is collective bargaining about if not to help workers, be it in the public or private sector, secure the above economic rights that FDR delineated, such that we avoid “the stuff of which dictatorships are made”?
Go through FDR’s body of work, and you will find that the overarching theme that he found “unthinkable” and “intolerable” was economic insecurity.
In her Georgetown speech on human rights at the end of 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went all FDR on the global stage and proclaimed people must be free from the oppression not just of tyranny but also “free from the oppression of want — want of food, want of health, want of education, and want of equality in law and in fact.” Whatever you think of Hillary’s foreign policy as Barack Obama’s secretary of state–and I can’t say I’m thrilled on that front right now–Hillary’s greatest edge over both Obama and McCain was always on domestic policy.
If only we had a president talking about the “oppression of want” here at home every day…we could have had a Democratic president who actually looked to FDR instead of Reagan. Imagine that. (But alas, “nobody could have known… nobody could have predicted.”)
While all the hullabaloo about what FDR would have done on public worker unions has waged on, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Woman Behind the New Deal–Frances Perkins:
[…] one of the most influential, yet least acclaimed, figures from the period: Frances Perkins, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s secretary of labour.
As America’s first female cabinet secretary, Perkins masterminded the introduction of unemployment insurance and Social Security (public pensions), with crucial ramifications. She spearheaded a radical overhaul of labour laws, introducing a minimum wage, a 40-hour work week and a ban on child labour. During her tenure, which lasted for all 12 years of Roosevelt’s presidency, workers won the right to collective bargaining, and union membership exploded.
Perkins came to Roosevelt’s cabinet from a career championing workers’ rights. An outspoken graduate from Mount Holyoke, she began work as a social reformer in New York well before women won the right to vote. A defining moment was the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911: 146 garment workers, most of them young immigrant women, died as an overcrowded factory burned down in Greenwich Village. Perkins, who had been having tea with friends nearby, witnessed the tragedy from the pavement, watching young women leap to their deaths from the upper floors. She vowed to redouble her efforts and became an adept political operator, working with the famously corrupt Democrats in Tammany Hall as well as with Republicans. Her close relationship with Roosevelt began during his days as New York governor.
Perkins went to extraordinary lengths to succeed in the sexist world in which she operated. She changed her name from Fannie to Frances, thinking the former might subject her to ridicule. In her early 30s she began wearing dowdy clothes because she thought male politicians would find her less threatening if she looked like their mother. And she went out of her way to avoid upsetting the etiquette of the time. While secretary of labour, for instance, she insisted on sitting with the wives of cabinet ministers at official dinners. Despite all this, she faced constant sexism, particularly from union leaders who abhorred the idea of a woman running labour policy.
What would Frances say about the present-day fight in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana?
And, as a case-in-point, would she recommend female secretaries sitting with the wives of cabinet members at official state dinners today?
Times change. Attitudes shift forward according to the progress made (and slip backward according to the progress undone).
But, core principles outlast the trends. I can’t imagine Perkins saying the hard-won right to collectively bargain is expendable for public workers. I rather like to think of her standing in solidarity in front of one of those statehouses today.
The other big read I’d like to direct your attention to this morning is from counterpunch.org — Anthony DiMaggio’s, “Masters of Spin: Rightwing Manipulation of the Wisconsin Revolt.”
It’s been hard to miss the “Taxed Enough Already” set’s desperation this week. They’ve been passing around the Rasmussen poll that purports to show that public opinion is behind Walker like it’s gospel, even though a USA Today poll found that 61% of Americans oppose the removal of collective bargaining rights for pubic sector workers. I was going to write an entire rant on the disparity between the two polls myself until I saw DiMaggio’s article. It says everything I was going to point out and covers some other polling on the issue as well. Give it a look.
An especially salient point made by DiMaggio:
No one with any real expertise in the study of public opinion should be surprised by my contention that the American public is generally progressive on issues related to social welfare and worker protections – at least when polled through specific policy questions. Well respected scholars in political science regularly have uncovered such patterns in their analyses of public opinion.1 Similarly, no one who attended the Madison rally last weekend should be surprised that there is widespread opposition in Wisconsin to Walker’s attack on public sector workers.
Precisely! Anyone who follows public policy knows that the public option, squishy and ill-defined though it may have been, was very popular, most especially when it was specifically defined as Medicare for All.
Public opinion is often liberal on the nitty gritty. It’s the message manipulation on the big picture by Republicans that winds us up with public policy that is the opposite of what most Americans want.
To understand why they’re able to successfully manipulate the message, just look at the three parties regularly seated at the negotiating table:
- Obama-Reagan “Dems” (center right)
- GOP (far right)
- Taxed Enough Already (batshit right)
While it’s crucial that we push back on number 2 and 3, it’s just as essential that we find a way to put the fear in number 1. There isn’t any cross-section of our oligarchy that is likely to start taking our voting power seriously anytime soon. But, one thing the bonus class does fear is our power in numbers when we mobilize outside of elections and demand our rights and policies that put people before profit. It interrupts that whole stability thing (which they crave at our expense.)
The few will do everything they can to try to keep the many divided so that we can’t reach a critical mass.
The idea that we have no choice but to acquiesce to the Politics of No Place Else to Go (D-learned helplessness) is as much a myth as are the GO(TEA)P talking points and spin. We-the-people have some place to go. That is the entire point of self-governance.
We–the middle and working class–must join together. That is the place where we have to go. Solidarity forever.
Wisconsin’s fight is Ohio’s fight. Ohio’s fight is Indiana’s fight. Indiana’s fight is our fight.
As Mother Jones once said:
“I have never had a vote, and I have raised hell all over this country. You don’t need a vote to raise hell! You need convictions and a voice!”
We will sink together, or we will swim together. At the very least, let us raise hell together. I hope today’s rallies across the nation are just the beginning.
Real quickly before I go, a few odds and ends…
This Day in Jazz History (February 26)
In 1917, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first jazz recording.
While we’re at it, I can’t resist putting up Billie Holiday’s rendition of “Come Rain or Come Shine”:
You’re gonna love me like nobody’s loved me come rain or come shine
Happy together unhappy together and won’t it be fine?
Days may be cloudy or sunny
We’re in or we’re out of the money.
But I’ll love you always, I’m with you rain or shine
Rain or shine.
From Solidarity to Sisterhood
I want to share this fantastic link that commenter Pilgrim e-mailed to me — “Anonymous was a Woman” (Yale Alumni Magazine).
I have a cousin who is the big sister I never had–when I entered my twenties, she passed onto me the “Nelson Mandela” quote that “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” Almost a decade later, it was my turn to carry on the tradition and share the quote with my kid sister. By then I had done enough digging around to be able to tell her that it wasn’t Nelson Mandela who said it, it was a woman peace activist named Marianne Williamson.
The Yale mag link has dozens of examples of things you’ve probably heard before but may not have known were said by a woman, either because of misattribution or no attribution at all. Check it out if you get the chance.
So what headlines are you following today? Let’s hear ’em in the comments.
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