Obama vision thing must resist Romney reaction by Ian Williams Tribune Sunday, June 17th, 2012 Wisconsin

is a state mostly known for its cheese, but it has hit the political h eadlines, with some on the American left muttering darkly that the state’s citizen ry richly deserved their nickname of “Cheese-heads,” when they narrowly defeated the attempt to recall Scott Walker, the reactionary Republican Governor. In many ways, the curdled nature of Wisconsin’s politics encapsulates many of the issues bedevilling rational politics in the wider US. When the Governor repealed collective bargaining rights for the public employee unions, he provoked an out -swelling of solidarity and support across the United States and the world. The unions broadened the issues to include services and the whole debate about c ivil society, but they were fighting an uphill battle. First, the Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited private money into election battles led to a flood o f cash into the state with an estimated $80 million being spent, 12-1 for the in cumbent conservative. That money watered some fertile ground in post-Ronald Reagan America. Unions hav e the lowest membership penetration for a century. Many unions have also ranged from being corrupt to complacent, giving just enough mud for the right to throw at “Big Labor”. Bill Clinton set the course for Tony Blair by describing the unions as “special interests.” It is easier for conservatives to kindle resentment against the “privilege” represen ted by workers who successfully fought and defended working pay levels, healthca re and pensions when so many in the broader labour market work with developing w orld levels of insecurity, but it is easier when for, such a large minority of A mericans, their fevered visions so completely obscure reality, as when a Tea Par ty demonstrator against Barack Obama’s healthcare bill was injured – and had no insu rance when he was taken to hospital. The country where voters want women arraigned for injuring their unborn children almost uniquely in the world has no paid maternity leave. Employers and their lawyers successfully fight to the bitter end against union o rganisation, while the government agencies are, depending on the administration, unwilling or unable to intervene as corporations fire organisers and close unio nised plants. With that American conservative talent for Newspeak, states with a nti-union laws are called “right to work” states. It does not help solidarity that, even where unions have conducted fighting retr eats, one uniquely American response has been to “grandfather” in old rates and cond itions for existing workers, while accepting much lower pay and worse conditions for newer employees. In recent years, some unions had learned their lesson and actively recruited and organised, and like the autoworkers of old appealed to wider constituencies and causes, but there are limits to what unions themselves can do. In the old days, we could have pointed to the British Labour Party as an example of how unions c an express their wider social concerns. But one could hardly do it with a straig ht face after New Labour. In the Wisconsin context, with a narrow result being crowed by conservatives (ec hoed by the media) as a huge defeat for the unions and Democrats, it is signific ant and sadly typical that neither the National Democratic Party, nor Obama, wei

ghed in heavily on the issue. While unions put cash into the campaign, the Democ ratic Party bigwigs held back and Obama, who had carried the state last time, st ayed away. Sensible people should not expect Obama to tick the boxes on some radical leftis t wish list – not if they do not want Mitt Romney with all his gruesome menagerie of cheque-writing ventriloquists in the White House next year. However, the Pres ident missed a double opportunity, not just to score an electoral blow against c onservatism, but also to articulate an actively ethical vision to counter the ps eudo-moral fervour that dominates the Republicans and seems to hold many Democra ts in thrall. The vision thing moves people – to vote, for example. Obama needs to work on it.

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