September 2008 – Presidential Campaigns Start on Labor Day – Where Will They End?

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By Jack Neworth

While Labor Day is upon us, I confess that lately I’ve been doing very little “labor,” unless you count clicking a remote control. With the Olympics, the Democratic Convention, and the U.S. Open I haven’t wasted this much time since the O.J. trial. 

Labor Day isn’t really about labor anymore. It’s a day set-aside for mattress and tire sales, barbecues, and bidding farewell to summer. With the advent of outsourcing and NAFTA, we’ve been basically trashing labor for the past thirty years. The first thing Ronald Reagan did as president (after removing the solar panels from the White House – what a visionary) was to break up the Air Traffic Controllers union. 

Labor used to be the backbone of the middle class. Now the middle class is disappearing. The American dream included good wages so families could own their own homes and send their kids to college. Today the divide between rich and poor hasn’t been this great since the Depression. (A depressing thought.) I read recently that the average CEO makes more money in one day than the average worker does in one year. Instead of Labor Day maybe we should have CEO Day? After all, they’re the one’s celebrating.

In the U.S. there are far more workers than employers and far more poor and middle-class than rich. Woody Allen said it best in his 1975 comedy “Love and Death” set in czarist Russia. Boris (Woody) says to Sonja (Diane Keaton) “The serfs should rule the country.” “The serfs?” Sonja asks incredulously, “Why them?” “Because they do all the work,” Boris replies. 

The upcoming presidential election will be a battle of working class versus ruling class. Obama was raised by a single mother while McCain came from military aristocracy. (Father and grandfather were admirals.) After dumping his first wife, he married into Cindy’s beer fortune and is so rich he doesn’t even know how many houses he has. (He also doesn’t know the difference between Shia and Sunni or that Iraq and Pakistan don’t share a border.) I say people who live in glass houses (Keating 5, etc.) at least ought to know how many they own. 

Joe Biden also grew up in a working class family and currently has a negative $300,000 net worth. As of this writing, McCain’s likely VP is Mitt Romney whose father was Chairman of American Motors Corporation. Romney has a net worth approaching half a billion dollars. Of course he and McCain think the economy is solid because, for them, it is. 

The late Jesse Unruh, the former Speaker of the California Assembly, often said, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” Republicans always have a huge edge in money, although this year it may be different. Actually, as devastating as the last eight years have been you’d think the Democrats would be a shoe in but they usually manage to shoot themselves in the foot. That somehow reminds me of the Will Rogers’ quote, “I’m not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat. 

Why does labor lose at the polls? For one, they don’t own any media outlets. (Unless you include the Beachhead!) And, when they’re tricked by wedge issues, like gay marriage, they wind up not voting their self-interest, if they vote at all. (Given the choices, who can blame them?) 

The Republicans also have a huge in sleaze. If mud slinging were an Olympic sport they’d get the gold medal every time. This rich (sick?) tradition goes back to McCarthy to Nixon’s “dirty tricks” to the evil genius of Karl Rove. During Vietnam, Bush was a draft dodger while Kerry was a hero. To that potential problem Rove reportedly said, “By the time I’m done with Kerry people won’t know which side of the Vietnam War he fought for.” He was right of course.

The height (or bottom) of Republican dirty tactics has to be in 2002 during Max Cleland’s bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate from Georgia. The Republicans took a photo of this Vietnam vet triple amputee and put it next to Osama Bin Laden’s. Whenever anyone tells me the ethics of the two parties are the same, I ask them when did Democrats ever question the patriotism of a triple amputee. Surprise, surprise, Cleland’s opponent, Saxby Chambliss, didn’t happen to serve in Vietnam. (He had a rather convenient knee injury.) 

John McCain promised he’d run a clean campaign. That lasted as long as it took to accuse Obama of treason, i.e. being willing to lose a war just to win an election. So much for clean. After Labor Day the race really begins. Mattress and tire sales and barbecues aside, in celebrating the holiday I only hope we remember to honor the labor part of Labor Day.

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