Obama and Motown….
President Obama appeared today in my hometown, the city of wheels, Detroit, MI.
Although in the grand and beautiful state of Michigan for the Labor Day weekend, I did not venture into the Motor City to hear the President speak, instead choosing to stay in a quintessentially Michigan setting near a lake and tune into it on C-Span. What I was treated to via the helpful public affairs channel was vintage Barack Obama at his best. It featured many of his trademark rhetorical flourishes, and the crowd of mostly unionized workers relished the Orwellian tribute despite its often conflicting statements and logic.
Ending his speech with – “We are one nation. We are one people. We will rise and fall together. Anyone who doesn’t believe it should come to Detroit.” – may salve the ill fated psychic wounds endured by my beloved place of heritage, but it smacks of hometown boosterism and not much more. Detroit, in fact, has seen its prospects plummet under Mr. Obama, the city itself laboring under an unemployment rate close to 25% which is about 8 percentage points higher than when Obama took office at the nadir of the recession. I presume, therefore, the President is alluding to falling together rather than rallying to rise together, not a very satisfying message to send the country in its current collective mindset of desiring constructive and positive leadership.
In fact, the thing that struck me most listening to the speech was that it was anything but constructive, anything but positive, and anything but a call to unify. In fact, my own perception of the speech that it was classic political theatre intended to rouse a core constituency through demonizing other segments of our society and dividing our country further. Amongst his disfavored groups that are apparently not of the collective that rises and falls together are bankers (whom he decried for taking the bailouts he proffered and not coincidentally forced on a few) businesses who are greedy (as if the “system” when properly governed is not supposed to make this a public good), Republicans who apparently are simply “playing games” (The President of no bi-partisan legislation reiterating his tendency to autocracy by saying “Still believes that both parties can work together to solve problems” and he is “not going to wait for them”….sigh), and, fittingly, States that dare propose right to work laws and auto companies that fail to take government money (Mr. Obama conveniently omitting mention of Ford during his speech despite pawning over General Motors and Chrysler, two companies that have been blessed with both cheap capital and, conveniently, protection from labor strikes by the Administration).
One of the more bewildering moments came when Barack Obama described the union workers of America as “job creators”. As a son of union workers, real ones and not the public sector kind, and an entrepreneur and someone who spent an evening at a working class tavern in the old hood in Motown this weekend, I have rarely seen an out of work UAW guy go out and create jobs. Private sector organized labor, as Mr. Obama pointed out, has done tremendous things for this country, my being is a perfect example, but they are not exactly in the vanguard of leadership in”creating jobs”. I would challenge the President to provide the data to support his contrary claim that is not constructed of some twisted neo-Marxist dialectic which turns statistics heels up or some out of date Keynesian contortion of reason and accepted economic practice.
Fittingly, for a speech made in Detroit, Henry Ford proved long ago that paying people well induced higher demand, but the catalyst and creation of that opportunity was, nevertheless, the entrepreneur. I guess in the mind of an old Keynesian, the existence of a job enabling someone to spend equates to “job creation” (begging the question of, naturally, the source of the original job – Keynesians love tautologies), which only illustrates the hard times that such economists have fallen upon when such desperate reasoning exemplifies their root cause analysis.
As a person who, even though I did not vote for him, was proud of my country for electing an African American, who hoped for the best, and who had reasonably thought that Mr. Obama’s inclusive campaign rhetoric would translate into his Presidency, I continue to be simply mortified at the class warfare Mr. Obama thinks will make this country better.
At one point in Mr. Obama’s speech, he even mixed his metaphors on unionism, praising private sector unions and their exposure to and flexibility against competition to justify the pandering of votes for dollars relationship embedded in public sector union bargaining, a sector of unionism completely shielded from “competition”. I simply had to file that bit of slavering in the “some people will believe anything” basket.
Not only are public sector unions a shadow of private sector unions, their mere existence is a threat to middle class, private sector, blue collar employees. In order to accommodate the ever growing pay and benefits sought by public unions, governmental bodies must tax more. And, their taxes fall disproportionately on the working man in a factory as studies of the incidence of Corporate taxation – Labor and Capital Shares of the Corporate Tax Burden – have shown. And, the linked study is but one of many. In other words, as the unionization of the public domain has marched forward, the unionization of the private sector has declined. So much for the Motown “working man” alignment with the cause; it is simply empty imagery intended to tug at emotions when mixed with a heavy dose of envy politics.
In reality, the union leaders do not care about the union members working in a factory any longer as long as the public sector union recruitment adds to their membership enriching their organization’s coffers as well as their own paychecks.
In reality, politicians could care less about production line workers in the Motor City as long as their constituency grows. And, this mendacity with regard to the private sector, blue collar union member is even more hubric than simply growing public unions at the expense of private unions by taxing private union members out of income increases and jobs; it is embedded in the crass vote grabbing positions of those same politicians on immigration reform. Despite the fact that Mr. Obama’s Administration has sought to unilaterally, if not legislatively, increase the supply of unskilled labor in the United States through effective amnesty to illegal immigrants (that increased supply depressing wages of other unskilled and low skill occupations such as assembly workers) while at the same time opposing increases in legal immigration to enhance the supply of engineers and developers needed to grow a manufacturing economy, the Union heads unilaterally support Mr. Obama and his Administration, the blue collar UAW member be damned.
Of course, enhancing manufacturing and blue collar, middle-class wages are the furthest things from this Presidents’, as well as the Union Leaderships’, mind apparently. It is all about votes for the President and all about membership dues for the unions; let the poor soul laboring to help turnaround the fortunes of his company go to waste in a sea of new labor competition as long as the President and the unions get the check-off law thereby enhancing their power bases and, in the case of union leaders, their incomes.
The message of Mr. Obama was clear to me today. We all rise and fall together but the definition of “we” is more transparent and clear than a former President’s definition of the word “is”, it is also more tangibly critical to understand what Presdient Obama means by “we” than it ever was to understand what another meant by “is”. Mr. Obama made crystal clear that he has another undeclared war that he is fighting, and this one is against Americans that he, in either his political or ideological mapping, does not consider amongst the “we”. In a time where the country needed a unifying message of leadership, what we got today was a destructive, divisive lesson in the President’s vision and unwavering ideology, and it was anything but positive or unifying or constructive.