Class War in America: the Book
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The Coalition from Workers’ Hell:
Republicans and Conservative Democrats
When Harry Truman campaigned for president in 1948, he beat a coalition of Republicans and rebellious southern conservative Democrats by asking voters: “How many times do you have to be hit on the head before you find out who’s hitting you?”
Of course, he answered the question and won the election, despite the common assumption that conservatives had been able to convince voters that they would be better for the economy and, therefore, better for workers.
That same coalition had previously passed the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 over President Truman’s veto. Taft-Hartley allowed states to pass “right-to-work” laws, which made it almost impossible for unions to gain a foothold in them. The southern and western states that passed these anti-worker laws were then able to attract industry from other states that didn’t offer corporations a union-free environment, with its guaranteed low wages and draconian working conditions.
Thus began the exodus of industry from the North to the South, and the degeneration of pay and working conditions in the North. This very same coalition, Republicans and conservative Democrats, has done it to workers again. NAFTA and the WTO are today’s equivalent of the Taft-Hartley Bill of 1947. Except now, the strategy of pitting workers from different states against each other has been extended to the world “free market.” Apparently, today’s voters have been conned into believing that it is a good idea to pit workers of the world against American workers.
Clinton: A Moderate Republican
Truman also attacked Wall Street, and “the profiteers and the privileged class.” “Those Republicans are cold men...they want a return of the Wall Street economic dictatorship.” He referred to them as “selfish men who have always tried to skim the cream from our natural resources to satisfy their own greed.”
Contrast the worker’s spokesman, Truman, with President Clinton, the new Republican who won the presidency again in 1996. Since the Republicans also won Congress, the continued growth of the wealth and income gaps between the rich and middle-and-low- income Americans was assured.
Those who think it’s a stretch to say that Clinton is a Republican should go to the November 7, 1996 issue of The Wall Street Journal. According to A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard, Chairman of the Securities Industry Association and head of Alex Brown, Inc.: “We have a great Republican president now.”
In the same Journal article, read the opinion of Hardwick Simmons, Chief Executive Officer of Prudential Securities Inc.: “Here we are dead set in the center with a big long leash around President Clinton.”
According to our number one daily conservative financial newspaper, voters wanted Clinton to balance the extreme tendencies of both the Republicans and the Democrats in Congress.
In other words, The Wall Street Journal and America’s right wing have successfully changed our definitions of balance and moderation. Traditional “Eisenhower republicanism” (Clinton) is now considered moderation and is almost nonexistent in the Republican party. Traditional “Truman liberalism” is now considered extremist and is increasingly rare in the Democratic party.
This means that corporations, Republicans and conservative Democrats (i.e., “big money”) have been able to convince the American voter that:
§ Workers’ wages are low, not because they lack power, but because they are uneducated and poorly trained, and our economy isn’t growing fast enough.
§ Labor unions are bad for workers, the economy and the country.
§ Unmanaged free trade will eventually benefit all Americans.
§ The growing wealth and income gap in our society is good because it is fair (the wealthy work harder, have more talent and better genes), and it will eventually benefit everyone.
§ The more money our richest citizens take out of our corporations and our society—and invest overseas—the better off everyone will be.
§ High taxes on our richest citizens are unfair and would cause the economy to slow down and would destroy jobs.
§ And, in general, people who don’t believe these absurdities are socialists or even worse.
If current trends continue, America’s investors will continue to get richer, they will give even more money to their propagandistic think tanks, and America will continue its drift to the far right.
Always Two Parties in the South
Contrary to popular belief, there have always been two political parties in the South.1 Prior to the 1960s, the two southern parties consisted of the “Bourbon” Democrats and the liberal Democrats. The Bourbon Democrats represented the interests of the land owners, the big farmers, the corporations and the wealthy in general.
The liberal Democrats represented the interests of working-class Americans and were more receptive to civil rights. The real election in the South was not the national election; it was the primary election when voters chose which kind of Democrat would represent the party.
In the ’60s, to take advantage of southern resentment, Republicans correctly blamed civil rights legislation on liberal Democrats. To defend themselves against such attacks—even to join in the attacks—the Bourbon Democrats became Republicans and the national shift to conservatism began in earnest.
Not surprisingly, many of the liberal Democrats who supported civil rights lost their elections. By turning workers against the “biased liberal news media” (who were supposedly telling lies about the deplorable conditions for blacks in the South), “pointy-headed-liberals,” and the liberal Democrats who supported civil rights, conservatives were able to sweep the South.
Unfortunately, too many workers failed to realize that the politicians who fought for the rights of minorities were the same ones who had always fought for pro-worker legislation. Republicans and Bourbon Democrats—who had always supported anti-worker, pro-investor legislation—became the workers’ newly adopted anti-civil-rights heroes.
As a result, many of today’s southern Republicans used to be Bourbon Democrats, and many conservative “Democrats”—who never switched parties—are closet Republicans. They talk “worker” in their speeches, but they practice “wealthy investor” in their legislation and their policies.
In the areas of the financial markets, some aspects of big business and free world trade, Clinton is a classic example of a closet Republican. The Wall Street Journal reported on a meeting of frustrated Republicans who met in January, 1999 to seek “a message and a messenger”:
Imagine Republicans’ funk. From all the states, party leaders have come here this weekend seeking a message and a messenger, only to find that the closest they can get is: President Clinton.
“He has co-opted so much of our agenda,” bemoans Michael Hellon, Arizona’s state party chairman and member of the Republican National Committee. “You might say he’s the most articulate spokesman we have for Republican issues.”2
On other popular 1999 issues, such as the environment, worker health and safety, gun control, education, and social security, Clinton acts more like a traditional Democrat. For example, while he supports more funding for government programs such as OSHA, the Republicans continue their strong opposition. Under the head, “Business Groups and Allies in Congress Seek to Block OSHA Ergonomics Plan,” The Wall Street Journal reported that:
Mr. Ballenger, [R., NC] a business owner who heads a House subcommittee on workforce protection, said he and other House Republicans would vigorously fight the OSHA plan unless “sound research” is presented to justify such a move….
From 1996 to 1998, congressional Republicans had passed spending restrictions prohibiting OSHA from studying, drafting or implementing an ergonomics standard.3
So, while the Republicans are, and it looks like they always will be, totally Republican—Clinton is wrong only half of the time. Of course, in the case of OSHA it was an easy slam-dunk for him to be a traditional Democrat. After all, OSHA was proposing the humane, moral, and economically sound protection of an estimated 25 million workers in production jobs, as well as an undetermined number of secretaries, data processors and others who work at keyboards.
And the Republicans—after having denied the agency funding for research, then opposed its ergonomics plan because of a lack of research—raised the standard for sanctimonious hypocrisy to a world-record high.
Still, despite their obvious anti-worker biases, Republicans and conservative Democrats dominate American politics. How they’ve been able to appeal to working-class voters and get them to vote against their own best interests is a classic study of the demagogic effectiveness of deliberately deceptive propaganda—and the subject of Part 2.
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