It surpasses all irony and actually enters into the realm of bitter humor that we're about to celebrate Labor Day when the unemployment rate remains at the sky-high level of 9.1 percent. There are millions of Americans who are not laboring for a paycheck this year, and they have nothing at all to celebrate.
Many of them will, no doubt, still attend a barbeque or picnic or parade, or perhaps go to a local beach. But it's a pretty safe bet that few of them (at least the ones not attending the parade) will be thinking much about the meaning of Labor Day.
President Obama is going to spend the weekend hashing out exactly what will be in his upcoming speech on jobs and the economy. It's another fairly safe bet that Obama won't be using the words "Labor" or "Union" in this speech, sadly enough.
Obama's speech was originally planned for Wednesday night, but the Republicans had set that night aside for Reagan worship, so he was forced to move it to Thursday, the same night the first professional football game of the year will be broadcast -- perhaps setting up the tough choice for millions of couch potatoes between watching an hour of politics or watching the pre-game show.
Obama's speech, nonetheless, is being billed as a make-or-break moment for him, as virtually every speech he has given as president has also been billed (the media just love this particular storyline, it seems). From the Left, Obama is being told in no uncertain terms: Go big, or go home. His speech needs to be bold and his plans sweepingly decisive, or else he's just not going to have much to run on next year. Especially when the White House itself is now predicting that the unemployment number is going to stay well north of eight percent for the rest of Obama's term in office.
Some Democrats have all but given up on the president ever being bold enough for them, and are so frustrated with him that his job approval poll numbers sank below 40 percent for the first time ever -- and not in a partisan Republican poll, but in Gallup's numbers. When Obama's below 40 percent, it means he is losing a portion of his base. This must be frustrating, to say the least, for the White House, but at this point it wouldn't surprise some Democrats if the president responded by announcing something along the lines of:
"I have decided that the last thing America needs in the midst of our economic woes is a highly partisan election season. Therefore, in the spirit of bipartisanship which I have shown all along as president, I will not be campaigning next year. I'm still going to run for a second term, but I think the process would be more adult if I refrained from engaging in crass political games, and instead offered up weekly lectures to America on various non-controversial subjects, starting with this week's subject: the history of the Patent Office. I truly believe that the American public is hungering for less politics, not more, and I will be putting this to the test. While the Republicans waste time and money campaigning, I will not be engaging them on any point which could remotely be considered political."
Obama announcing he's going to halt the E.P.A.'s efforts to further clean up America's air from polluters should be seen as merely the icing on this particularly bitter feeling. While the American public will soon forget the pettiness of this week's "which day will Obama speak to Congress?" spat, we are all going to be living with the pollution for years to come.
Now, the president could surprise both his supporters and his former supporters this week, and not only give a rousing speech but also by following through in a major way. If he identifies the crisis correctly and offers up ideas which seem eminently reasonable to the average American -- and if the Republican House then promptly blocks all of these ideas -- Obama could do himself a world of good politically with this speech.
If Obama offered up ideas that were so brilliant that even the House Republicans got on board and quickly passed them into law, which immediately improved the jobs situation for all of America, this would (of course) be much better than just reaping the political benefits of the upcoming speech; but then if unicorns farted rainbows which could be easily gathered and converted to non-carbon-emitting fuel then we'd all be a lot better off as well. I put the chances of either happening at about the same, personally.
Boy, this opening bit is really getting grim. I'd better just stop here, and move along to the awards, before we offer up a special Labor Day edition of the Friday Talking Points.
We have two Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out today, to the two co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus in Congress. Representative Raúl Grijalva and Representative Keith Ellison sent a letter to the president, and the letter pretty much speaks for itself.
Dear Mr. President:
We are pleased you will be addressing a joint session of Congress next week to outline your much-anticipated jobs package. We encourage you to include in that package large-scale programs that will significantly reduce unemployment and our deficit. Specifically, we urge you to support emergency jobs legislation that will immediately put Americans back to work. With 14 million Americans still looking for work, this is not the time to tinker around the edges. We must take bold action, and that requires federal emergency jobs legislation.
Washington needs to invest in the country's future by enacting significant emergency jobs legislation to put Americans back to work now. There is no shortage of work to be done in America, and no shortage of workers to do it. Young Americans in particular are facing a bleak economic reality. Many of them have mountains of college debt and no prospects for employment. We are squandering the talent, energy and hopes of a generation. We urge the Administration to make a good American job a reality for every young person.
In addition to addressing the immediate unemployment crisis, it's also time to invest in long-term opportunities that create jobs and rebuild America. One option with broad support is creating a National Infrastructure Development Bank. The country’s infrastructure needs an estimated investment of $2.2 trillion. We should not delay these crucial investments, especially while millions of Americans are out of work. Rebuilding America -- without creating expensive new corporate tax loopholes -- will further boost our economy and create badly needed jobs.
We can stem the tide of mass unemployment and meet our long-term national commitments by enacting emergency jobs legislation and creating a National Infrastructure Development Bank. We look forward to continuing to work with you to enact these initiatives to put America back to work.
Whenever the president speaks to a gathering of Lefties, he invariably issues the same challenge, no matter how it is actually phrased: "Keep my feet to the fire! Keep on pushing me!" The Progressive Caucus in Congress exists to do precisely that. And, when they do so, they deserve recognition.
Which is why co-chairs Grijalva and Ellison deserve this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.
[Congratulate Representative Raúl Grijalva and Representative Keith Ellison via the Progressive Caucus contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]
Sadly, identifying the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week was easy. In fact, I already wrote about this on Wednesday.
Representative André Carson, a leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, uttered the following indefensible statement this week, as he was speaking of Tea Party attitudes towards African-Americans:
"This is the effort that we're seeing of Jim Crow. Some of these folks in Congress right now would love to see us as second-class citizens. Some of them in Congress right now of this Tea Party movement would love to see you and me ... hanging on a tree."
While many well-meaning folks disagreed with me in the comments to this article (especially over at the Huffington Post), I still stand by what I wrote. This comment was over a line that should not have been crossed. Carson is not doing his own cause any good by using such rhetoric -- in fact, he's harming it. But I've already fully laid my case out, on this one, so read my earlier article if you'd like to hear my reasoning.
There may have been other Democrats doing disappointing things this week, but nothing was as disappointing as what Carson had to say, which easily won him the MDDOTW award for the week.
[Contact Representative André Carson on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 179 (9/2/11)
The Friday Talking Points are short and sweet this week. The reason for this is that the ideas themselves are pretty simple for just about everyone to grasp. They are, in fact, the things we should all thank Labor for -- even though we all take each and every one of them absolutely for granted now.
These ideas didn't just spring forth from the goodness of the corporate masters' hearts, mind you. Each and every one was fought over. People even died for these concepts, as pedestrian as they sound today. Each and every one was fought tooth and nail against by the big industries of the day -- with exactly the same line they still use today to convince presidents to back off from cleaning up our air: "It'll cost too much. It'll cost us so much money, we simply won't be profitable. It'll cost jobs. It'll make the price of [insert industry product] so high that customers won't be able to buy it."
Each and every single time -- the exact same argument. But regardless of the daunting opposition, the workers still fought. For each and every one of the following items (as well as far more than we could even list here). These items are so short and sweet that they don't even require the usual introduction -- we're presenting nothing but the talking points themselves this week.
Remember these at the barbeque or the beach this year. And thank Labor for fighting for these things.
Standard work day and work week
"Americans consider the 8-hour work day and the 40-hour work week to be standard. It wasn't always this way. Work days used to be 10, 12, even 14 hours or more per day in some industries -- often the ones with the most backbreaking tasks. The standard we all enjoy today of a five-day, 40-hour work week was the cause of strike after strike across America for years and years on end. If you enjoy working only 40 hours a week, and not 70 or 80, thank Labor."
"The concept of getting paid 'time-and-a-half' is pretty much universally accepted in America today, but this didn't just get handed down on holy tablets at the beginning of time. The whole concept of 'overtime' was fought for, and the business owners sure didn't like it. Their attitude was: 'Pay fifty percent more for the production line, just because you've got a rush order to get out? Preposterous!' Now overtime standards are actually written into law. But those laws were fought for, they didn't just happen. If you enjoy getting paid time-and-a-half for overtime today, thank Labor."
Child labor unacceptable
"We grow up in a country where using child labor is illegal. But it didn't always used to be this way. Young children used to be put to work in factories and sweatshops all over America, because they were considered a legitimate source of cheap labor. Do you enjoy the fact that neither your child nor mine will even be exploited and abused in this fashion ever again? Thank Labor."
Compensation if you get injured on the job
"As with all these other workers' rights, the entire concept of a worker getting any compensation at all when he or she gets injured on a job did not just spring into being of its own accord. When workers used to be horribly disfigured by dangerous work, they were thrown aside to fend for themselves for the rest of their life however they could manage. This does not happen anymore. Workers are entitled to compensation if they are injured on the job today. This right was fought for, over and over again, in our history, and we'd do well not to forget this. Enjoy the fact that if you ever get hurt working there is workers' comp to fall back on? Thank Labor."
"Furthermore, the fact that there are laws today which were put in place for the safety of the American worker is also something to celebrate. Dangerous work will always be with us, but previously businesses had no real incentive to improve the conditions in which their workers toiled. Safety just wasn't all that big a bottom-line consideration. The fact that we do have laws today to make each and every job in this country as safe as possible is why 'regulations' is not a dirty word. Regulations protect you, me, and every other American worker from dangers that workers used to be forced to face daily. Do you enjoy not risking your life and limb for a paycheck? Thank Labor."
"Daily work used to mean just that -- every day. Sunday was sometimes a non-working day, but not always, not in every industry. As with the standard work week, the fact that we all enjoy a two-day weekend today was a hard-fought battle against bosses who saw no profit in shutting down two days in every seven. You'd have to be lying if you said you didn't enjoy your weekend every week, and for that you can thank Labor."
Happy Labor Day!
"While I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Labor Day, I'd also like to point out, once again, that the concept of a paid holiday didn't just appear out of the blue, either. While religious holidays have a longer history, the idea of setting aside certain days as holidays which workers are paid to not work is a fairly recent one. As befits the purpose of our Monday off, I'd like to publicly thank Labor on this year's Labor Day... and also to publicly ask the guy laboring over the grill over there -- are the burgers done yet, or not?"
-- Chris Weigant