The late great Yogi Berra coined the phrase; the blues rocker John Fogerty used it as a song title on his 2006 concert album “The Long Road Home,” and in this company I humbly reference it for this column’s title and theme. The Democrats’ 2020 presidential primary season is underway; and “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
Once again, there is no consistent message. Once again, references to work and workers are minimal at best.
Yeah yeah, I know. All the Dem candidates are for unions and workers’ rights. But for most of them, that is not out front; and it is not linked clearly and concisely to the other issues that are put forward.
Bernie, Pete Get Specific
I have visited the websites of all the “serious” candidates. Only four of the 24 candidates—Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg and Biden—have an obvious and easily accessible link on their websites to an issue page on work, workers or unions. And only Bernie and Mayor Pete get specific about how they will empower workers and their organizations.
Bernie cites the Workplace Democracy Act (also known as card check). Mayor Pete vows to “pass a new Wagner Act to support the role of organized labor and defend the right of workers to organize.”
Warren gets lost in the reeds of “transforming large American companies by letting their workers elect at least 40 percent of the company’s board members to give them a powerful voice in decisions about wages and outsourcing.”
Huh? I am surprised at that statement. Warren should know better. Board membership is not a labor issue. Worker representation and unfettered collective bargaining are what empower workers and their organizations. Board membership is a feint; a pretense for real worker empowerment through unencumbered worker representation and bargaining.
Uncle Joe Biden says “It’s time to restore the dignity of work and give workers back the power to earn what they’re worth,” whatever that means! Biden says he’s “a union man.” But given that as Vice-President he presided over a U.S. Senate with a nearly filibuster-proof majority back in 2009-10 and could not get card-check passed, I’m not sure what being “a union man” does for us.
Income Security Essential
What I am trying to convey here is that, once again, we have no simple, direct and consistent message. Two dozen candidates with two dozen “messages.” As I wrote two years ago when I began these columns, there is only one message: It’s Income Security, Stupid! And the process through which that message is actualized would be James Madison’s prescription of regulation and control. Hence worker empowerment, unfettered workplace organizing, retirement security, Social Security, universal health care, wage equity, race and gender equality, financial sector and monopoly regulation, wealth regulation, real progressive taxation, affordable housing, infrastructure redevelopment, even artificial intelligence and environmental regulation are all related to income security.
Some of these issues create work; some of them preserve work. But all of them are intimately connected to enhancing or sustaining income security for common folk.
The Republicans have always had a simple message. It is that ownership is paramount and owners should rule. And the process through which their message is actualized is the so-called “Free Market” of unregulated and uncontrolled ownership. In other words put the oligarchs in charge and all will be well in America.
Shades of 2016?
So I think you can now see how this might be déjà vu all over again: a visit back to 2016 when we also did not have a message and the Republicans did. When instead of our speaking of work and income security (the Democratic paradigm which can unite us all regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or geography) we instead spoke of deplorables and parsed ourselves into segments of rural vs. urban; skilled and educated vs. under-skilled and poorly educated; lumpen Trumpsters vs. enlightened Clintonites etc.
All the 2020 Democratic candidates seem smart and caring. But they also have to be expansive and consistent. Expansive means that they cannot and should not eliminate any group of voters from solicitation. So the Youngstown, Ohio auto workers who voted for Trump and have recently been laid off because GM moved production to Mexico may just be open to an income-security message that fines companies that took Great Recession bailouts so as to provide a few years of income to those workers.
And the Fox viewers who likely have been adversely affected by the Trump tax increases for the working class might just want to hear what a Democratic candidate has to say. So none of them should turn down that network’s invitation. Consistent means connecting the income-security message to every other issue they present, because it is connected to so many of the problems that regular working-class folk experience every day.
Don’t Fixate on Trump
But instead of consistent and connected messaging, they mostly continue to focus on that shiny orange object, Donald Trump; notwithstanding that three years of “all Trump all the time” has not significantly diminished the breadth of his base. And the entire Democratic establishment—Presidential candidates, Congressional leadership and party apparatus—has continued to obsess on the mystical redemptive potential of one Robert Mueller. But, while Mueller’s reputation may be “unimpeachable,” his stand on presidential impeachment is disingenuous at best, given his “Hamlet-like” position of: “There is a remedy beyond my power but I ain’t gonna talk about it”! This is a chase down an Alice-like rabbit hole if there ever was one!
Unfortunately I have seen this movie too many times before and it never ends well. Good, smart, caring people want to do something good, smart and caring for society. But they do not have a clear vision—20/20 or otherwise—and so they do not succeed. It is indeed like déjà vu all over again. But this time such a failure may be the last wound our precious democracy can sustain.
Editor’s note: Mr. Montalbano is a retired labor lobbyist and former political action director for District Council 37.
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