This article about Hillary Clinton
in The Nation, cited and praised by two other
well-known progressive bloggers
, is a perfect example of when progressives become sophomoric and undermine Democratic candidates – the ones who, if nominated, are more likely to pursue an agenda that, while not to the writers’ complete satisfaction, will be light-years better for the American people than the Republican version.
They basically seem to think that in order to be progressive, you have to be an enemy to all corporations, and anybody associated with big corporations. Well, it ain’t 1955 anymore. Union members are 10% of the population, not 35%. The overwhelming majority of people now work for companies unrepresented by a union and maintain complex love-hate feelings about those companies and their managements. They expect candidates to be able to grasp the same subtleties and shades of gray.
The whole point of what the Clintons are advocating as “New Democrats” is precisely the notion that being pro-business and pro-worker or pro-union are not mutually exclusive. Hillary’s voting pattern is strongly liberal on the economy in most cases – consistently 95%-100% favorable as tallied by the Americans for Democratic Action. For example, she is a sponsor of the most important pro-union legislation today, the Employee Free Choice, which would help eliminate some of the worst of the union-busting behavior of companies like WalMart (even though as First lady of Arkansas she was on the board of WalMart).
Like their anti-union antitheses, the short-sighted progressives like these see labor relations as a zero-sum game: with necrophiliac overtones of Marxist class struggle, as a fight strictly over how much of the pie you get, and the winner gets more and the loser gets less. But is it such a stark choice? The New Democrat version that at least considers itself pro-labor would say it’s not a zero sum game, but that what’s good for labor is good for the corporation (making the pie bigger, with both coming out ahead, via better productivity and higher demand), and ultimately good for America.
One thing we do know is that virtually all Americans have roundly rejected the class-struggle model of American society. They may or may not be right to do so, but the overwhelming majority consider themselves to be middle class, and virtually the entire population, including the unionized worker, aspires to be middle class. That means, for purposes of obtaining votes, the candidate’s populism -- still a good bet for Democrats if done right -- needs to be subtle and shrewd. The New Democrats’ vision of a win-win proposition from good labor relations may be a pipedream – I don’t think it is entirely, as the better income-distribution numbers during Democratic administrations demonstrate –- but in any case it’s what voters want to hear.
All this is not to say a progressive can’t have and act on a preference for a more sharply drawn pro-union candidate at the primary level. But once we get to the general election, assuming you can’t have a candidate who was a firebrand labor organizer for his or her entire life – and a son or daughter of a labor organizer and, for super-duper picket line cred, grandson or granddaughter of the founder of the Pennsylvania Molly Maguires -- which would you rather have, someone from the Board of Directors of Wal-Mart who supports every effort to prevent unionization of the company (because it’s a zero-sum game in which the company loses) and would vote for anti-union members of the National Labor Relations Board, or someone who was once a member of that board, can operate in the corporate world, considers herself pro-business, but also votes a mostly pro-union slate and is supported by the major national labor organizations?
Talk about the perfect being the enemy of the good! There is a time to grow up.
And, oh, yes, since there are hints of "pox-on-all-your-houses" responses in these posts: Anyone trying to convince me that Gore would not have won in 2000 if Nader had stayed out of the race – especially if the Green Party had endorsed Gore, as it should have in the tradition of the old New York Liberal and Conservative parties trying to go with a relatively sympathetic candidate with a chance – has a long way to go. These things matter.