Saturday, December 13, 2008


Are there are Republicans even worse than Cheney and Bush? The ones who obstructed the “rescue” loans for the Big Three auto companies are good candidates. The least of it is that, following the money, they’ve switched their allegiance from domestic to foreign capital. The worst: that they’re outright, unabashed union busters, who just can’t stand the idea of institutions that, no matter how feebly, empower workers and raise their standard of living.

I concede that my judgment is untrustworthy since what seems like obvious overreaching to me often gets a free pass from the leaders of the Lesser Evil party – especially when reacting appropriately might give cause for Republicans of the Bush-Cheney grade or worse to castigate them for their “liberalism,” or when they fear displeasing their paymasters. Israel’s depredations in Gaza and the other (illegally) Occupied Territories, and its wars of choice in Lebanon, are examples. But this latest assault on organized labor seems so over the top that I find it hard to imagine that Obama and Co. could let pass without some salutary reaction. But then I remember that for the Better than Bush sector of our political class to do the right thing, even with overwhelming popular support, they need a backbone – and, while the GOP does at least have that, backbones are and always have been in short supply in the Party of Pusillanimity, the POP.

With Inauguration Day so far off, we can still hope, along with liberals on an Obama high, that the overreaching this time will encourage Democrats to move closer to the aspirations of the constituencies who vote for them -- notwithstanding the fact that the writing is splashed across the wall that the new administration will be a Clinton administration redux. We can still hope that Obama and Company will enact programs that strengthen labor -- to the dismay of those southern Senators. Organized labor asked for nothing from Obama, and that may be what it will get. But, in this instance as in so many others, circumstances may force Obama to do the right thing. High on the list is rethinking the entire framework within which unions organize and operate. Repealing Taft Hartley would be a good place to start – practically and symbolically.

Putting repeal of Taft Hartley on Nancy Pelosi’s abstemious table, the one that had no place for impeachment, would also be a good place to start – practically and symbolically – for remaking the Democratic Party. Recall that Taft Hartley was passed over Harry Truman’s veto. Clintonites can’t venerate Harry Truman enough, but for all the wrong reasons. They like his “muscular,” indeed nuclear, foreign policy, his multilateralism, and his role in forging international institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that reinforce American hegemony. But just as Cheney and Bush made Democratic victories belatedly inevitable in 2006 and 2008, the overreaching of Republicans even worse than Cheney and Bush might just force the “victors” to embrace the (few) good things associated with Harry Truman’s presidency: not least his recognition that a strong labor movement is indispensable for freedom, equality and social solidarity – an item in desperately short supply for more than a quarter century.

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