3 Presidential Candidates: March 24, 2008

Judging the Three Presidential Candidates
On Their Commitment to Workers and Unions

By Harry Kelber

(The First of Five Articles)

After suffering through nearly eight years of the President Bush administration. with its Big Business agenda, and its open-ended, costly and unnecessary war in Iraq, working people and their unions are looking forward to electing a candidate to the White House in 2008 who will be sympathetic to their neglected needs.

The contest for President of the United States now boils down to three candidates, each of whom has a large following of ardent supporters. They are: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Senator John McCain of Arizona. Each of the Democratic candidates has been making inspiring speeches about their views on jobs, health care, foreign policy, energy, trade and education, with promises that they can turn their plans into reality.

But will they fight — and how hard will they fight‹on these issues, once they are elected and have to face an alliance of conservative Republicans, right-wing organizations, Big Business influence and lobbyists bearing seductive political bribes?

In this series of articles we will deal with factors that, more than their speeches, will determine the nature of their presidency. Let’s start with how the candidates look at the working class and their attitude to unions:

Senator Clinton

Senator Hillary Clinton is the most experienced First Lady in American history, having served a total of 16 years under her husband, Bill Clinton: eight years when he was governor of Arkansas and another eight when he was the nation’s president. She is smart, capable, feisty and focused on becoming the first woman president in U.S. history.

While she may have learned many things when traveling in 80 countries, her experience with the struggles of working people and their unions is sparse. For a woman whose every move has been chronicled, there is no public evidence that Senator Clinton ever expressed sympathy for striking workers or appeared on a picket line or ever mentioned what she thought about unions. Nor did she show the slightest interest in the problems of workers when she served on the board of directors at Wal-Mart.

When she was “exported” from Illinois through the efforts of her husband and his influential political friends to become U.S. Senator from New York, she knew nothing about the workers in the state and had no knowledge of unions or awareness of the problems facing its citizens.

And it is worth noting that in her autobiography, “Living History,” published in 2003, Senator Clinton completely blocks out any reference to the labor movement. In its 562 pages and its 28-page index, there is only one slight reference to unions, but not a word about labor’s economic and political activity during the 16 years that she was a prominent public figure. No mention about the assistance unions gave Bill in his two victorious presidential campaigns.

Senator Clinton’s supporters overlook her shortcomings in their determination to elect her as the first women President.

Senator Obama

Not long after he received his law degree from Columbia University with the prospect of a brilliant career as a corporate lawyer, Barack Obama decided, at age 24, to become a community organizer. He spent three years as an organizer in Chicago’s South Side, where he worked with a church-based group seeking to improve living conditions in poor neighborhoods inhabited by white, black and Latino blue-collar workers; neighborhoods plagued with crime and unemployment.

As an organizer, he made countless “house visits” to the people in the neighborhoods, learning about their fears and dreams, and enlarging his empathy for their predicament. He learned some of the techniques for developing a grass-roots campaign on a social issue. He used his new organizing skills to conduct a drive that registered 150,000 new voters in 1992 that became a springboard for his own grass-roots campaign for a seat in the Illinois State Senate.

Obama came to realize that in order to truly improve the lives of people in that community and in other communities, it would take not just a change at the local level but a change in our laws and behavior. He went on to earn a law degree from Harvard in 1991, where he became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.

Soon after, he returned to Chicago to practice as a civil rights lawyer and teach constitutional law. His advocacy work led him to run for the Illinois State Senate, where he served for eight years. Finally, in 2004, Obama became the third African-American since Reconstruction to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

In the Illinois State Senate, Obama worked with both Democrats and Republicans to create a state “Earned Income Tax Credit,” which in three years provided more than $100 million in tax cuts to families throughout the state.

Obama is applying many of the principles he learned as a community organizer to his campaign for the presidency. He believes ordinary people can and will respond to meaningful change, and that their participation is essential for rebuilding America as a truly fair-minded, democratic nation, respected throughout the world.

Senator McCain

The Senator from Arizona is widely regarded as a military hero, who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam after his naval aircraft was shot down. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986 and ran for President against George Bush in the 2000 Republican primary, which he lost after a promising start in New Hampshire.

McCain, who is now the official presidential nominee of the Republican Party, holds views about Iraq that are in sharp contrast with his Democratic rivals and opinion polls that show a majority of Americans favoring a pullout from the war.

McCain insists that the United States military must remain in Iraq until the war is won, “even if it takes a hundred years” He was an enthusiastic supporters of the “surge,” that added some 30,000 troops to the U.S. occupation forces and he is quick to cites every sign of progress in curbing violence, rebuilding public services and stabilizing the national and provincial governments in Iraq.

The Arizona Senator’s domestic policies generally are in accord with those of President Bush’s. He believes that the U.S. provides the best medical and health services in the world, and problems about health insurance for Americans can best be solved through market forces instead of spending hundreds of billions of dollars in untried government programs.

McCain admits that he has much to learn about domestic problems, but he will be tutored in coming months about infrastructure, energy, trade, education, and other issues, about which he now depends on his advisers. Meanwhile, he is watching his Democratic competitors as they bad-mouth each other, picking up arguments he can use in future pre-election debates.

McCain, who hasn’t received an endorsement even from a single labor union, nevertheless has significant support from white male members, those who voted for Presidents Reagan and Bush in previous elections and who admire his stance on Iraq.

A lot depends on how the nation’s voters feel as we head closer to November’s Election Day. If Iraq and al Qaida’s terrorist attacks are front-and-center in the public mind, then McCain’s chances of winning the presidency will grow. If worries about the economy dominate the debate, the Democrats will win the White House

Article 2: “Words and Actions” will be posted Monday, March 31. Visit our web site: www.laboreducator.org .