Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"Do voters want a president walking picket lines?"

The Swamp (Chicago Tribune political blog):
In a speech he delivered Saturday in Spartanburg, S.C., Sen. Barack Obama repeated a vow that as president he would walk a picket line on behalf of organized labor.

“When I am President, I will end the tax giveaways to companies that ship our jobs overseas, and I will put the money in the pockets of working Americans, and seniors, and homeowners who deserve a break. I won’t wait ten years to raise the minimum wage – I’ll raise it to keep pace every single year. And if American workers are being denied their right to organize when I’m in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes and I will walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States.”
Obama made a similar pledge during the summer in Iowa before a labor audience. John Edwards, another presidential candidate, has said essentially the same thing.

These extraordinary promises from Obama and Edwards haven’t received the amount of attention in the media they deserve but that doesn’t make them any less significant.

The notion of a president walking a picket line is really nothing short of mind-boggling. Let us count the ways.

For one, it would represent a president placing the entire weight of his executive-branch authority on one side of the labor-management scale.

A president represents not just labor but management. Thus, a president appearing on a picket line would clearly appear to answer the old labor question/slogan/song: “Which side are you on?”

By siding with labor so openly as to walk a picket line, a President Obama would certainly appear to be sending a signal to the National Labor Relations Board as well as his Labor Department as to what side they should be on. For reasons that should be obvious, that would be a deeply troubling development.

Then there is the dignity of the office of the presidency, no small matter.

Most Americans expect a president to carry himself in a certain way. The president, after all, is not just the nation’s chief executive but a symbol of the Republic, no less so than the bald eagle or Capitol dome.

That’s why the personal failings of presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, John Kennedy and others, revealed in real-time or after the fact, can disappoint so many so greatly.

Even many Americans who didn’t agree with the impeachment of Clinton for his affair with an intern were deeply distressed that a president would be so heedless of the damage his misbehavior would do to his singular office.

This is not to say that walking a picket line demeans members of organized labor. This is, after all, part of what being in a union is about.

But it isn’t how most Americans envision their president spending his time. It’s not what most Americans think a president should be about.

As far as I can tell, the other Democratic presidential candidates haven’t been publicly asked to react to Obama and Edward’s promise to be picket-line walking presidents.

They may not want to, given that it could be seen as a no-win issue for them. If they agree with the would-be picketing presidents, they’ll catch criticism and if they disagree, they’ll antagonize the unions which are likely to play major roles in turning out voters for the Iowa and Nevada caucuses.

But it would be interesting to hear the other Democratic candidates’ views on this very deliberate promise that’s been made by at least two of the top three (by national polls) Democratic candidates.

Obama and Edwards' promise to picket will have many people who learn of it scratching their heads not just about the candidates but their campaign teams as well.

Was there a debate about this pledge within their campaigns? If so, how is it they concluded that such a pledge by the candidates was a good idea?

As suggested by Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, who wrote about Obama's pledge in an essay in July that appeared in Real Clear Politics, Obama’s promise is certainly revealing. While Brown was writing about Obama, the same could be said for Edwards.

Running for president is a tough business and candidates are human beings who often say things in the heat of the moment that come back to haunt them. But Obama's pledge to picket as president was in his prepared text.

It may get lost in the frenzy that is a presidential campaign, but the episode provides insight into a man who would like to be president of the United States.
Howie P.S.: Obama said he would walk if "American workers are being denied their right to organize." That's not "taking sides" in a labor dispute, as the author claims. That's upholding a principle of justice and fair play and, in many places, the law.

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