I know I’ve used the déjà vu/time machine analogy before, but if Michael J. Fox can make three Back to the Future movies, then I can make a sequel, too. Every time I read about how the Democrats first pandered to and are now ignoring the needs of the working class, I feel like I just landed back in 1993 after taking a wild ride in Doc Brown’s beat up DeLorean.
Back then, the Clinton administration lost control of the health care reform debate, abandoned its number one promise to labor, and screwed a whole bunch of Mahoning Valley residents who worked for Packard Electric. Clinton’s approval numbers tanked, and Republicans, once thought to be an endangered species, regained power.
Sound eerily familiar? Today, the Obama administration has lost control of the health care reform debate, abandoned its number one promise to labor, and apparently screwed a whole bunch of Valley residents who used to work for Packard Electric. The president’s once-phenomenal approval ratings are tanking, and Republicans, pronounced dead less than eight months ago, have risen Lazarus-like from their crypt.
Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on just to make sure we aren’t really caught in a time warp. On health care, Mr. Obama is being beaten into the ground by the same right-wing liars who crushed reform in ‘93: Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, the insurance industry, and the AMA.
These guys, along with some new crazies, are recycling the lies they told 16 years ago. They say we’re headed toward the kind of socialized medicine that (they claim) doesn’t work in Canada, that bureaucrats will interfere with the doctor-patient relationship, that care will be rationed, and that a government worker sitting in a cubicle will decide whether your elderly mother lives or dies.
The fact that none of this is true doesn’t seem to matter any more today than it did in the Clinton era. Like then, the liars are using paid advertising and talk radio to propagate their fables. And, like then, people are listening.
The President has responded by conducting town hall meetings where he spends most of his time refuting tall tales. But that won’t get the job done. It’s time for the president and the Democratic Party to spend some of the millions in their campaign accounts to mount a counterattack.
The TV and radio ads will be easy to make—just tell people the truth. Tell them your plan won’t require them to abandon their coverage or their doctor, that bureaucrats working for the profit-hungry insurance industry are already making decisions about their health care, that care’s already rationed, especially if you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who are under or uninsured, and that we already have socialized medicine. It’s called Medicare, and it’s kept untold millions of elderly mothers alive since 1965.
Tell the American people all that and do it right now, before members of Congress head home and are verbally assaulted by constituents who haven’t heard the truth. If you don’t, the reps and senators will return to Washington scared sh—well, we all know how scared they’ll be—and health care reform will be dead.
Now let’s talk about unions. In another Back to the Future moment, Mr. Obama, like Clinton in ’93, recently abandoned his promise to fight for the enactment of organized labor’s number one priority. Sixteen years ago the issue was scabs. During his campaign Clinton had promised to do everything possible to ban the use of permanent replacement workers during labor disputes. He didn’t.
In 2008, labor’s priority was passage of the Employee Freedom of Choice Act (EFCA) a rewrite of the National Labor Relations Act that would, among other provisions, make card check recognition the law of the land. This would prevent employers from engaging in the coercion and intimidation that have crippled countless organizing drives over the past two decades. Obama repeatedly promised to do whatever was necessary to get it done:
We need to stand up to the business lobby that’s been getting their friends in Congress and in the White House to block card check. That’s why I was one of the leaders fighting to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. That’s why I’m fighting for it in the Senate. And that’s why we’ll make it the law of the land when I’m President.
But they haven’t. In yet another Democratic betrayal of the working class, the card check provision was stripped from the EFCA before it came to a vote in either house. The president expended zero political capital on the issue.
Which brings us to Delphi-Packard. At one time approximately 14,000 people worked in the company’s plants in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Then Clinton won the NAFTA battle and thousands of Valley residents saw their good-paying jobs head to Mexico. Thousands of employees agreed to retire early in exchange for enhanced pensions and guaranteed health care benefits.
Guess what happened next. First, Delphi-Packard went bankrupt. Then salaried retirees lost their health care. Then the company dumped its pension obligations on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. As a result salaried employees will lose the enhanced benefits they were promised, as will thousands of retired hourly employees who had the misfortune of belonging to the IUE, including most of the company’s workers in the Mahoning Valley. They will also lose health care benefits.
Ironically, one group of hourly retirees will not face similar cuts: those from the UAW. In a move designed to facilitate GM’s emergence from bankruptcy by gaining the union’s support for a concession package, Packard workers who were UAW members of won’t lose a penny of their pensions or their health care benefits. The IUE asked Mr. Obama’s auto task force to order GM to provide its members with the same supplemental pension and benefit package given to the UAW. That request was summarily rejected.
It should come as little or no surprise then, that when retirees gathered to protest their fate, many carried signs castigating Obama and told reporters that they would do everything they could to deny him a second term. Of course, these same workers had made a similar threat about Clinton in ’93. Maybe Rahm Emanuel and the crew in the West Wing are confident history will repeat itself? After all, they know that Democratic leaders keep getting away with disrespecting working families and their unions. And maybe that’s why they were so willing to pit one union against another in order to protect GM?.
By the way, Mr. Obama’s approval numbers: 64% in February, 54% in July. Was that whoosh I just heard the sound of the air rushing out of his presidency or the whirr of an old DeLorean flying by?