Near the end of his remarks today to Detroit’s annual (organized) Labor Day rally, President Barack Obama said: “We are one nation. We are one people. We will rise and fall together. Anyone who doesn’t believe it should come to Detroit.”
Fair enough, if the only allowable measuring stick is the relative success of his administration’s auto bailouts, which financed turnarounds driven by private-sector executives and the Wall Street M&A honchos staffing his task force. Beyond that, BHO didn’t offer much of anything to the 93 percent of the country’s private-sector workforce who don’t carry a union card and don’t allow their dues money to finance the political proclivities of their elected leaders.
With his highly touted “jobs speech” just days away and with his popularity in the polls dropping further with each passing week, Obama’s speech could have been a unifying prelude to a national address before a joint session of Congress. But no. The only hint of what’s coming is what’s already been — a publicly financed program to repair the nation’s infrastructure by putting 1 million (union?) unemployed construction workers back to work — and he delivered it with archly political langauge:
“Labor’s on board. Business is on board. We just need Congress to get on board,” the president said. “Let’s put America back to work. But we’re not going to wait for them. We’re gonna’ see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re gonna’ see if House Republicans will put the country ahead of politics.”
Why deliver on the “one nation” and “one people” when “Us against Them” and demonizing the opposition is so much more galvanizing? Listening to the president, to the chants of “four more years,” to the unmistakable sense that here was a man preaching to the stereotypical choir is to wonder whether the folks out there actually drawing paychecks from the private-sector economy understand that Team Obama’s proffered solutions to America’s jobs crisis focus almost exclusively on pulling the levers of government — not reducing barriers to private employers that sustain their livelihood or the investors who sustain their employers. Or that a growing private sector funds public-sector (union) jobs.
Probably not. Today’s riff was billed a presidential address, but it carried all the markers of a partisan campaign speech. Here was a sitting president calling out, by name, each of the Democratic members of Michigan’s congressional delegation and pointedly ignoring all the Republicans. Here was a president whose administration continually beats back allegations that the auto bailouts were a back-door rescue of the United Auto Workers saying, “Everything we’ve done, it’s been thinking about you.” Here was a candidate gearing up for his re-elect droppin’ his “G’s” and promisin’ to fight while condescendingly affecting the subtle twang of folks who don’t hold two Ivy League degrees. Just sayin’.
Yes, yes, I know: This was a Democratic president with one of most labor-friendly administrations since the 1960s addressing a Labor Day rally in Detroit. He was right to hail the women who made the “Arsenal of Democracy” possible during World War II, to highlight labor’s foundational role in the 40-hour week, paid vacations, Social Security and company-paid medical care and pensions (even though credit for those programs is more widely shared than the approved labor view of 20th-century American history). But he didn’t offer any vision to show working Americans — blue-collar and white-collar, union and non-union — how those markers of modern life, however they came to be, can be sustained in a competitive global economy.