Just suppose that, in response to criticism that Edward Kennedy was unfriendly and unfair to American business, a spokesman for him had this to say: "The senator likes and respects business people. Why he regularly meets and consults with Billie Sol Estes and Robert Vesco." The uproar over such an offensive remark would be immediate and loud.
Well, what Vesco and Estes together may have done to damage the image of American business, the Teamsters union has done several dozen times over to smear the reputation of organized labor. Three of that corruption-plagued and corruption-breeding organization's last four presidents have been convicted of crimes. Sadly, the Teamsters have become synonymous with under- the-table sellouts of their members' interests to employers, illegal payoffs and kickbacks, extortion, embezzlement and worse. In the great legislative and political battles for civil rights and social justice, battles in which American labor fought courageously and effectively, the Teamsters were mostly noncombatants.
Now, just as Richard Nixon did before him in the script written by Charles Colson, Ronald Reagan publicly and enthusiastically embraces the Teamsters. By so doing, the president insults and abuses American working men and women. From the beginning, the Reagan political strategy was to pick up the blue-collar vote "on the cheap." There was frequent mention of traditional values, family and neighborhood. In 1980, many blue-collar voters, fed up with being patronized and lampooned by liberal snobs, listened receptively to the Reagan message. And in the single biggest turnaround among any group, Reagan carried blue-collar America 48 to 42 percent.
By November 1982, with double-digit unemployment for the first time since Pearl Harbor and without Reagan on the ballot, blue-collar voters preferred Democratic candidates for the House over GOP candidates by 61 percent to 35 percent. The promised political realignment following 1980, just like the 13 million new jobs promised by the Kemp-Roth bill, was found to be missing. Now, in an attempt to rebut the voters' expressed perception that his preferences and his policies tilt noticeably in favor of the privileged and the powerful, the president seems to say: look, some of my best friends make their living off the dues and pension funds of blue-collar workers. The new president of the Teamsters, Jackie Presser of Cleveland, will reportedly receive $500,000 a year.
In lining up with the Teamsters, Ronald Reagan confirms the worst suspicions of his core constuency which has always believed that organized labor is too powerful and corrupt. Of course, that is not true. Organized labor--like cops and computer programmers --is mostly honest. By singling out the Teamsters for friendship and attention, Reagan demonstrates contempt and disdain for working people.