Commentary Magazine


Topic: AFL-CIO

The “Game Change” Obama Never Existed

Yesterday, Alana asked a perceptive question about President Obama’s self-image as portrayed in Game Change. I think we have the answer. My favorite thing about Game Change–the book about the 2008 presidential campaign that was made into a much-maligned HBO film–is the index. Whoever created the index at the book’s publishing house assumed no one would read it from cover to cover, but instead that its target audience–people who are portrayed in the book–would scour the index for the references they were looking for. So the structure of the index is quintessentially Beltway.

What do I mean? The index entries are organized according to mainstream media conventional wisdom. So under “Obama, Barack Hussein,” there is an entry marked “calmness and self-possession of.” You know, just to help nudge book reviewers in the right direction. But the entry under Obama’s name that takes the cake is the one marked “conventional politics disdained by.” In case you haven’t heard, Barack Obama is a new kind of politician. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that accusing Mitt Romney of murder has become something of a central theme in the campaign to re-elect the president.

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Yesterday, Alana asked a perceptive question about President Obama’s self-image as portrayed in Game Change. I think we have the answer. My favorite thing about Game Change–the book about the 2008 presidential campaign that was made into a much-maligned HBO film–is the index. Whoever created the index at the book’s publishing house assumed no one would read it from cover to cover, but instead that its target audience–people who are portrayed in the book–would scour the index for the references they were looking for. So the structure of the index is quintessentially Beltway.

What do I mean? The index entries are organized according to mainstream media conventional wisdom. So under “Obama, Barack Hussein,” there is an entry marked “calmness and self-possession of.” You know, just to help nudge book reviewers in the right direction. But the entry under Obama’s name that takes the cake is the one marked “conventional politics disdained by.” In case you haven’t heard, Barack Obama is a new kind of politician. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that accusing Mitt Romney of murder has become something of a central theme in the campaign to re-elect the president.

Obama’s refusal to disavow the first ad in the death-by-Romney series was an indication that there would be more to come. And now there is. Today, several outlets have reported on the new AFL-CIO ad, which you can see here. Because of an item in a budget Romney hasn’t voted for and didn’t have anything to do with (Romney is not a member of Congress), Obama ally Richard Trumka is accusing Romney of eventually causing the deaths of many coal miners from black lung disease.

The media is getting in on the action as well. CNN went searching through its archives for footage of leftwing pundits describing Paul Ryan’s budget, and found a doozy: Paul Krugman telling CNN, “To be a little melodramatic, the budget would kill people, no question.”

“Melodramatic” is indeed one way to describe such a statement. Though perhaps Krugman isn’t the best pundit to make that accusation. The New Yorker profile of Krugman revealed that he and his wife threw an Election Day party with a strange theme: guests were directed to a fire pit into which they threw effigies of their most hated politicians. And then there was the Krugman column that opened thus: “A message to progressives: By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy.”

And of course, the addition of Paul Ryan to the GOP ticket practically guarantees the return of the Democrats’ ad in which they dress up as Ryan and throw an old lady off a cliff. But you can hardly blame the Democrats for being so “melodramatic.” It turns out the Ryan proposal is not so easy to attack honestly, especially because it doesn’t impact current retirees. Kirsten Powers tried to get around this yesterday on Fox by simply designating the entire country senior citizens, which led to the following exchange with Charles Krauthammer:

POWERS: It will affect old people, just they’re not old right now. So they will eventually be old.

KRAUTHAMMER: They’re called young people.

Powers says they’ll “eventually be old,” but according to Democratic talking points, Romney won’t let that happen. In any case, where is Obama the intellectual in all this? What happened to the disdaining of conventional politics?

It turns out that if you follow those entries in Game Change, you don’t get examples of Obama practicing a new kind of politics so much as examples of Obama saying he wants to practice a new kind of politics. And that is the most damaging part of the contrast between a Romney-Ryan ticket and an Obama-Biden ticket: the polite charm, policy expertise, and gutsy new politics of real reform in place of the status quo are on the GOP side. Obama’s opponents are everything the media pretended he was. He may have encouraged the flattering depiction, but it’s doubtful he fooled himself into believing it.

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Freedom is Mandatory Union Dues

There is something about conservatives using the word “freedom” that drives the left insane. Maybe because progressives like to see themselves as champions of the people, fighting against the system, rather than what they actually are: statists, attempting to impose their beliefs on individuals through government power.

At the Huffington Post, AFL-CIO  boss Richard Trumka reimagines the concept of “freedom” today in a column that is just as Orwellian as you would think (h/t Washington Examiner):

I do believe that freedom isn’t free — but today the corporate and political right wing is trying to cheapen this truly American value. They’ve been cynically using the word “freedom” to rally the American public against its own best interests.

When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, Sarah Palin tweeted, “Obama lies; freedom dies.”

She’s referring, I guess, to the freedom to go without health care when you’re sick.

In its otherwise positive decision, the Supreme Court gave states the “freedom” to deny Medicaid coverage to their poorest residents — even though the federal government would pick up the tab.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received the National Rifle Association’s “Defender of Freedom” award recently. I guess they meant Gov. Walker is defending teachers’ freedom from joining with coworkers to bargain fairly about things like class size. …

Let’s call this right-wing “freedom” catch phrase what it really is: a grossly political strategy to dupe the public, which holds the word “freedom” as something sacred.

This Independence Day, I say let’s go back to a truer use of the word “freedom.” Let’s start with President Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. I would add the freedom to bargain collectively.

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There is something about conservatives using the word “freedom” that drives the left insane. Maybe because progressives like to see themselves as champions of the people, fighting against the system, rather than what they actually are: statists, attempting to impose their beliefs on individuals through government power.

At the Huffington Post, AFL-CIO  boss Richard Trumka reimagines the concept of “freedom” today in a column that is just as Orwellian as you would think (h/t Washington Examiner):

I do believe that freedom isn’t free — but today the corporate and political right wing is trying to cheapen this truly American value. They’ve been cynically using the word “freedom” to rally the American public against its own best interests.

When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, Sarah Palin tweeted, “Obama lies; freedom dies.”

She’s referring, I guess, to the freedom to go without health care when you’re sick.

In its otherwise positive decision, the Supreme Court gave states the “freedom” to deny Medicaid coverage to their poorest residents — even though the federal government would pick up the tab.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received the National Rifle Association’s “Defender of Freedom” award recently. I guess they meant Gov. Walker is defending teachers’ freedom from joining with coworkers to bargain fairly about things like class size. …

Let’s call this right-wing “freedom” catch phrase what it really is: a grossly political strategy to dupe the public, which holds the word “freedom” as something sacred.

This Independence Day, I say let’s go back to a truer use of the word “freedom.” Let’s start with President Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. I would add the freedom to bargain collectively.

The “freedom to go without health care when we’re sick” isn’t the issue, unless Trumka is arguing that the state should force every sick person in the country to get medical attention. We all have the freedom to decide whether or not to see a doctor when we are sick, just like we should all have the freedom to decide not to pay for health care (insurance) when we are well. We have the freedom to move if we disagree with our state’s decision to not participate in Medicare expansion. And we also have the freedom to elect a new state governor who will participate in it, or lobby the current governor to do it, if that’s our preference.

We should all have the freedom to decide whether or not to pay monthly dues to a union, instead of having the money automatically pulled from our paychecks. Trumka opposes “teachers’ freedom from joining with coworkers to bargain” — in other words, he thinks teachers should be forced to join with coworkers to bargain. Shouldn’t someone who professes to care about teachers support their freedom to make their own choices regarding their paychecks and their workplaces?

Trumka seems to grasp that this statist mentality is unpopular with the public, and that labor’s messaging strategy in Wisconsin was a failure. That’s why he’s so adamant about trying to reframe his positions as “pro-freedom,” as illogical as it sounds. The conservative arguments are working, and the left has very little ammunition to fight back.

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Is the AFL-CIO Bailing on Obama?

Payback for President Obama’s decision to refuse to get personally involved in the Wisconsin recall fight may not be long in coming. U.S. News reports that the AFL-CIO will “redeploy funds away from political candidates” in the coming campaign in favor of spending on strengthening the union movement’s infrastructure. The magazine’s Washington Whispers blog quotes a spokesman as saying that this will mean a drastic cut in donations to candidates including the man at the head of the Democratic ticket, but that “this will not be a slight to President Obama.”

This is, as the magazine points out, a major policy change for the organization that once provided much of the money and the muscle for the Democrats’ national campaigns. But whether it is being done out of spite or, as is entirely possible, merely a recognition that the shrinking union movement needs to concentrate its dwindling resources on keeping itself alive, it must be considered a blow to a Democratic campaign that has already found itself facing a Republican presidential campaign that may be able to match the president’s ability to raise money. Either way, it is just one more sign that the Democrats will not be enjoying the same fundraising advantage in 2012 that they had in 2008. It also means that the AFL-CIO is conceding that its days as a national political force to be reckoned with are finished.

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Payback for President Obama’s decision to refuse to get personally involved in the Wisconsin recall fight may not be long in coming. U.S. News reports that the AFL-CIO will “redeploy funds away from political candidates” in the coming campaign in favor of spending on strengthening the union movement’s infrastructure. The magazine’s Washington Whispers blog quotes a spokesman as saying that this will mean a drastic cut in donations to candidates including the man at the head of the Democratic ticket, but that “this will not be a slight to President Obama.”

This is, as the magazine points out, a major policy change for the organization that once provided much of the money and the muscle for the Democrats’ national campaigns. But whether it is being done out of spite or, as is entirely possible, merely a recognition that the shrinking union movement needs to concentrate its dwindling resources on keeping itself alive, it must be considered a blow to a Democratic campaign that has already found itself facing a Republican presidential campaign that may be able to match the president’s ability to raise money. Either way, it is just one more sign that the Democrats will not be enjoying the same fundraising advantage in 2012 that they had in 2008. It also means that the AFL-CIO is conceding that its days as a national political force to be reckoned with are finished.

The timing of the announcement is bound to feed into speculation that the unions are mad about the president’s wise decision not to waste any of his own political capital on the Wisconsin recall. In the closing weeks of that campaign, the White House rightly saw that there was much to lose and little to gain from a presidential campaign stop in Wisconsin to bolster the flagging effort to oust Republican Governor Scott Walker. Though he was rightly mocked for only contributing a solitary tweet of encouragement to Walker’s opponent, no amount of presidential involvement would have saved the unions from their foolish desire to exact revenge on Walker for his successful campaign to cut back their ability to hold the state hostage in contract negotiations.

But even without the anger about their loss in Wisconsin, the AFL-CIO’s decision marks a sea change in the way our national campaigns are fought. In past decades, the union movement was a central, if not the major player in organizing Democratic presidential campaigns. The Democrats are no longer solely dependent on big labor, and they also understand that the price paid for too much help can be politically expensive. Nevertheless, the unions remain an important part of the Democrat coalition, and if they have decided to stop being players in electoral politics, the void they are leaving behind will be difficult to fill.

Though President Obama will probably not miss the union money too much, other candidates further down on the Democratic ticket will. It’s one more sign that a difficult election year just got a bit tougher for the president and his party.

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