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Biden Needs To Go To Michigan

[ Posted Tuesday, September 19th, 2023 – 15:30 UTC ]

President Joe Biden needs to go to Michigan, and he needs to do it soon. Biden needs to go within days, in fact -- and certainly before next Wednesday. Because if he either waits that long or doesn't go at all, he will have failed an important pop quiz in Politics 101. Here is how such a quiz might be framed:

You have billed yourself as the most Union-friendly president in the history. The United Auto Workers goes on strike. You should:

  • (a) Adopt a hands-off approach -- send White House mediators in and then state that you refuse to "play politics" with the negotiations.
  • (b) Put out a few statements supporting the right of the workers to strike and largely agree that their demands have merit, send in your negotiators, and then sit back and stay out of it.
  • (c) Travel to Michigan and set up a photo-op walking a picket line with the workers, in solidarity.
  • (d) (Other: fill in the blank.)

So far, Biden has chosen (b). He has stated his support for the workers' position, but he hasn't really been leaning into the issue either. Choosing (c) would be a dramatic gesture -- the first president to actually walk a picket line in a very long time. But photo-ops can go badly for all sorts of reasons, and it would mean a security challenge for the Secret Service. So perhaps (d) is the way for Biden to go. He should travel to Michigan, perhaps drive his motorcade past the picket line (and give them a big thumbs-up or tell the driver to honk the horn loudly), and then give a speech to an audience of U.A.W. members somewhere nearby. Biden could also hold a meeting with a select few of them -- perhaps some Union leaders as well as a representative selection of line workers as well. He could listen to their stories and empathize with them and their situation (Biden can indeed empathize well with blue-collar workers, due to his own childhood experience).

But Biden's got to make this effort soon. Because next Wednesday, Donald Trump will steal the spotlight that Biden should be owning right now. Next Wednesday is the scheduled date of the second Republican presidential debate. Trump is boycotting it, mostly for his own petulant reasons (he has a beef with the Reagan library where it will be held). So, like the first debate, Trump has "counterprogrammed" an event to try to draw viewers away from the GOP debate night. The event Trump has chosen? To speak to a hall filled with both U.A.W. and other Union members in Michigan.

This is why it is imperative for Biden to get there first. Trump can't suddenly move his event up on the calendar, since it is tied to the GOP debate. Which gives Biden a full week to steal Trump's thunder. Or, more accurately: to avoid Trump stealing what by all rights should be Biden's thunder.

This is a prime political fight brewing. Trump's Republican Party isn't exactly pro-Union, but they do love it when Union rank-and-file members vote for them (as they increasingly have been doing). Trump has already telegraphed what he's going to say at the rally, which is to blame all of the Union's ills on Joe Biden's insistence that America move away from cars powered by internal-combustion engines. Trump has already begun to shape this narrative by stating that "all the electric cars will be built in China," which feeds into the Union-members' fears for the future.

Of course, Trump doesn't have any answers, other than to continue building cars with gas-powered engines. Trump was incredibly anti-Union when in office, weakening federal labor protections and departments. Trump's own policies were in no way Union-friendly. So he can't make the case that he's going to solve their problems with some policy-based idea. Instead, he's going to do what he does best -- whip up their fear. Fears of not just losing their jobs, but losing the entire industry to China.

Biden would be a fool to ignore this developing political situation. It is a perfect opportunity for him to shore up support among blue-collar workers, for him to solidify his "Union Joe" brand, and for him to come down squarely on the side of the little guy who just deserves a break. He's already said the right words -- he did issue a statement that was very strongly supportive of the striking workers -- but he hasn't said them in person, in Michigan. While the targets of the strike include factories in other states, Michigan is symbolically the home of the autoworkers and it's also a very critical swing state for next year's election.

Biden will have to address the reality of the changing nature of the auto industry, of course. The problem for the Unions is that electric cars are much simpler in design -- there are fewer parts. Assembly is simpler. Which means it takes fewer workers to make an electric car than it does to make a gas-powered car. That's a harsh reality to face if you are one of those workers. This will trickle down throughout the entire industry as well. Fewer parts means fewer parts suppliers are necessary -- all those peripheral jobs that feed the auto components into the pipeline that ends at the assembly factory.

These changes are going to happen. It is almost inevitable, at this point. Biden provided the biggest push in American history towards moving away from the internal-combustion engine, with his Inflation Reduction Act. Biden got billions of dollars to either build or retool assembly factories so they can make electric cars. The real test is going to be whether these all turn out to be non-Union plants (such as Elon Musk's Tesla factory) or are part of the Big Three auto empire. Biden can make his case for: "We can build it here in America, and with Union workers!"

One problem for Biden is that he's been awfully chummy with at least one of the C.E.O.s of the Big Three, G.M.'s Mary Barra. She's helped him flesh out the vision of transitioning to electric vehicles, and Biden reportedly has "a tight relationship with her." But being able to reach out to talk to both sides can be a plus, if handled correctly. If he's already got a working relationship with management, then that could allow him to be a bridge for the Union negotiators.

Biden will have to build some credibility with the Union leaders and the rank-and-file U.A.W. workers. He won't have a magic wand he can wave to make it all perfect for everybody, but he can promise to do everything he can to promote and protect good Union jobs. And he's already pretty squarely on the side of the basic U.A.W. demand in this strike -- the fact that C.E.O. pay went through the roof in the past few years (as the auto companies made record profits), so it's now time to spread that profit around in the form of hefty raises for the Union workers who made it all happen. That is something Trump cannot do, since Trump would never lift a finger to help out any Union. All Trump has to offer is trying to drive a wedge between the rank-and-file and the Union bosses (which he's already doing, saying the bosses have already sold all the workers down the river).

Biden can offer the workers some optimism that the transition to electric cars won't be devastating to the Unions and he can express solidarity with their real goal of being the backbone of the middle class. Trump can't do any of that -- all he's got is whipping up their fears.

But if Biden doesn't make the trip to Michigan, there won't be a contrast for the workers to see. Trump will be the only one making his case. Biden will lose the argument by default.

This isn't rocket science. It isn't even automotive science. It is Politics 101. It is a basic test of leadership, for anyone who wants to be seen as pro-Union. You either show up, hear them out, show solidarity, make what promises you can, and be seen as fighting on their side -- or you lose the argument by default. If Biden misses this chance, he almost doesn't deserve to be president -- or at the very least he should stop calling himself the most pro-Union president of all time.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “Biden Needs To Go To Michigan”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Michael Moore doesn't dish out the compliments to pols very easily but he sure is impressed with what Biden has done so far. And, he agrees, wholeheartedly, with the notion that Biden is the most union-friendly president there ever was.

    How much more involved Biden gets in this affair is totally up to him as far as I'm concerned. Because no one can tell him what he needs to do to support workers and unions - he's been doing it throughout his entire adult and political life. As with most things, Biden knows best.

  2. [2] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    This is a really excellent essay on, as you say, Politics 101. I certainly hope Biden and his people are on top of this in all the ways you rcommend: after the U.N., on to Michigan. I hope!

    And, just guessing, if the White House wants a secure photo op of the president on the picket line, it can get one. That probably comes down to Biden's sense of how far he can push management by siding so super-visibly with the workers. A drive-by and a rousing speech with the right message is probably safer in terms of getting the strike settled, but boy I'd love to see a president grab a sign and join the line.

    (Who was the previous president who did so, as you comment, a *very* long time ago?)

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    If Biden misses this chance, he almost doesn't deserve to be president -- or at the very least he should stop calling himself the most pro-Union president of all time.

    Yes this would appear to be a no-brainer and I think Joe on the picket line is almost as important as showing up in the first place.

  4. [4] 
    Kick wrote:

    He should travel to Michigan, perhaps drive his motorcade past the picket line (and give them a big thumbs-up or tell the driver to honk the horn loudly), and then give a speech to an audience of U.A.W. members somewhere nearby.

    Yes, sir. I definitely think any President of the United States walking a picket line would be logistically clumsy, if not actually dangerous to the picketing workers for a myriad of reasons -- particularly the usual swarming press coverage -- and might play out like a disingenuous stunt. Remember that former VP Biden did meet with the striking GM workers in 2019 necessitated because for all Trump's campaign bluster and empty promises, workers were losing their jobs.

    At a July 2017 rally in Youngstown, Ohio, President Pathological Liar told his supporters not to sell their homes because the factory jobs are "coming back. They're all coming back," but by 2019, GM had closed the factory located a few miles away, two other GM factories in Michigan and Maryland had stopped production, and the UAW workers at 50+ factories across America went on strike to attempt to accomplish what Trump and all his grandiose rhetoric and bloviating hot air had epically failed to deliver.

    The speech and meeting you suggest are definitely the right tactic, CW.

    Because next Wednesday, Donald Trump will steal the spotlight that Biden should be owning right now.

    As for Trump stealing the spotlight, he now has a record to run on. Although Trump frequently railed about the U.S. trade deficit, President Bloviating Blowhard managed to make it worse.

    Question: In what year of the Trump presidency did he keep his promise to lower the trade deficit?

    Answer: There isn't one. In no year of his presidency was the trade deficit lower than in any of the 8 years of the Obama/Biden administration.

    Shine a spotlight on that.

    Trump's rhetoric regarding this issue and his attacks on union leadership are typical of the union busting auto manufacturers and meant to drive a wedge between the workers and their union leadership and thereby weaken their movement. It's the same old "fear and smear," "divide and conquer," and any of those striking UAW workers dumb enough to believe that Rapist McTrump gives a hang about them has obviously not been paying attention.

    Anyone at this point who actually believes that Trump the elitist class billionaire blowhard is concerned about the interests of Americans needs only to review his underwhelming performance as president and his prior prattling promises and outright lies followed by repetitive epic failure.

    It is amazing to me that Trump is (still) covered by the media as if he has any kind of actual political policy versus the irrefutable fact that he's nothing but a con job pathological lying sack of "say anything" shit who isn't running in order to further the interests of anyone who is not named Defendant Donald Trump... running to stay out of prison for the plethora of crimes for which he's committed against the people for which he's been indicted... NOT being "indicted for you" unless he's talking into a mirror or his orange reflection.

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