"We demand the guarantee of collective bargaining for labor. We demand a just, efficient, impartial administration of the National Labor Relations Act. We demand the guarantee of a floor under wages and a ceiling over hours for all who labor, skilled and unskilled, organized and unorganized.
"Likewise, we demand the guarantee of unemployment insurance. We demand social security, old-age pensions, care of the aged, the blind, the sick and dependent children.
"We demand the guarantee of Federal work relief for all those not employed by private industry; but we want a rapid reconstruction of our system of free private enterprise to the end that every American shall have a full share of our good life through the secure tenure of a real American job.
And who is the socialist Muslim Commie radical freeloader making these terroristic demands from our God-given free-market paradise?
It is, of course, the Republican nominee for president in 1940, Wendell Willkie.
Yes, Virginia, back in caveman times, even Republicans felt compelled to speak up for the rights of working people and to demand "guarantees" of a whole web of social benefits -- including the supply of government jobs when the private sector failed to provide full employment.
Today, of course, even "progressive" Democrats are waging all-out class war on workers, the old, the sick, the vulnerable -- on any and all of us who stand outside the tiny golden circle of the rapacious oligarchy and the militarist security/media apparatus that defends it. As Mike Whitney notes in Counterpunch, the public sector workers now being pressed to the wall in Wisconsin (and elsewhere) were some of the most fervent campaigners for Obama -- and this is what he has given them in return:
A bigger war in Afghanistan, a renewal of the Patriot Act, a porno-scanning system at the airports, more blank checks for Wall Street, and a lot of empty posturing about Guantanamo.
And when their pay and pensions and their jobs were on the line, Obama was nowhere to be found. Name one thing that Obama has done for working people? Health care? That fetid trillion dollar giveaway to big pharma? That just doesn't cut it.
Obama has called for a spending freeze on government workers' pay for the next 5 years while renewing the $700 billion Bush tax cuts at the same time. That's a feat that even Reagan couldn't have managed without igniting a revolt in the ranks. But smooth-talking Obama pulled it off without a hitch. In fact, his devotees are more ga-ga over him than ever.
Two weeks ago, Obama wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal promising to reduce "burdensome" regulations for his friends in big finance. He figured that the trillions they'd already been given wasn't quite enough to keep them happy, so he decided he'd find more rules that he could eliminate.
Then he slithered over to the Chamber of Commerce to assure them that he'd do whatever he could to "change the tone" at the White House to help them increase profitability. Just days later, Obama delivered an entirely different message to striking Wisconsin teachers. He told them that everyone would have to "make sacrifices" to make up for state budget shortfalls. Everyone except his rich friends, that is.
Recently, Obama appointed bank tycoon William Daley as his new chief of staff, and GE's "outsourcing" Jeffrey Immelt to lead his new jobs creation program. Then he finished off the month by throwing his support behind the latest labor-crushing free trade bill, this time with South Korea. According to the Oakland Business Journal: "The proposed trade deal with South Korea would cost 159,000 U.S. jobs over seven years and hurt some of the highest paying industries in the U.S., including motor vehicles and parts, electronics equipment and metal products, according to the Economic Policy Institute." Big labor is against the bill. Obama is for it. What a surprise.
This ties back to the Noam Chomsky quote we noted here yesterday: "It is necessary to destroy hope, idealism, solidarity, and concern for the poor and oppressed, to replace these dangerous feelings with self-centered egoism, a pervasive cynicism that holds that [an order of] inequities and oppression is the best that can be achieved."
This is precisely what has happened in the United States in the decades since Wendell Willkie made his declaration -- which of course was not at all radical at the time, but was if anything, standard boilerplate, as mainstream as Mom and apple pie, a reflection of what the vast majority of people expected their government to do. No one needs to sentimentalize the past -- or Wendell Willkie, for that matter -- and pretend that the deep current of imperialist militarism and elite domination that has run like a red thread through American history was not also in heavy operation during that era as well. But at the same time, it's also true that something real and valuable -- a countervailing current of hope, solidarity and concern for the poor and oppressed -- has been lost ... or else buried beneath mountains of the bloodflecked slag of empire and elitism since the days when Republican standardbearers talked this way.
Rhetoric is often empty and meaningless, of course; the current gasbag in the White House gives ample proof of that. But it's not entirely unimportant either. It sets down markers by which the hypocrisy of those in power can be judged; and it can help shape the consciousness, the perceptions and the expectations of individuals in a society. When even the word of compassion is no longer heard, when even the rhetoric of solidarity and fellow-feeling are scorned and demonized, then yes, something real has been lost, and people's society -- and their minds -- have been degraded.