There’s the old joke about a dog food company that revamps its marketing, operations, sales, etc., but still isn’t profitable. The boss asks why. The answer: “They won’t eat the dog food.” In politics the equivalent is something like: You can spin, speechify and argue, but sometimes the voters won’t buy what you’re selling. Both parties are finding that to be true in a very visible way.
The Democratic Party has become reliant on Big Labor to an extent not always appreciated by the voters and pundits. If you look at groups leading in independent expenditures between 1989 and 2014, the Service Employees International Union dwarfs all others ($83 million). In the top 15, 11 are labor unions. There is nothing to match the boots on the ground, phone banks and “volunteers” unions can enlist, almost exclusively for Democrats.
Despite its political power, or maybe in spite of it, Big Labor is dissolving in the workplace. From a high in the 1950s when membership peaked at 35 percent of the national workforce, only 6.7 percent of private-sector workers were unionized. If not for public-sector employees (about 35 percent), Big Labor — with all those dues-paying members — would be kaput. And even there, as we saw in Wisconsin, once the closed shop is abolished, employees stream out of public-sector unions.
On Friday Big Labor took a huge hit in Tennessee when, even with the help of management, the UAW couldn’t organize the Volkswagen plant. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board put it, “This wasn’t merely one more failed union organizing attempt. The UAW and its chief Bob King spent years working toward this vote as part of its strategy to organize plants in the American South, and all the stars were aligned in its favor.” That proverbial dog company thought so, too.
The reasons for labor’s decline is multifaceted, but it can’t blame the National Labor Relations Board, which has had its fingers on the scale in favor of unions for the last five years. It might just be that rigid work rules, the inability to be paid more for working harder and subsidizing left-wing political activities are a turnoff for the vast majority of workers. Go figure.
Republicans have their own dog food problem. Hard-right anti-immigration groups and pols have been inveighing against both legal and illegal immigration for some time now. They’ve used every rationalization in the book. They steal Americans’ jobs. They increase crime. They are dumber than native-born Americans. Each of these is demonstrably false, but, more important, unpersuasive with American voters.
A raft of polling consistently shows Americans (Republicans included) think immigrants help America, that reform should focus on those already here and that there should be a pathway to at least legalization. No matter what flavor of anti-immigration sentiment is churned out, Americans remain stubbornly wedded to the vision of America as a land of immigrants and the dream of upward mobility.
To the horror of hard right-wingers who now claim to idolize him, President Ronald Reagan in his farewell address declared, “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.” And Americans ate it up.
If you are going to argue against the work ethic (as liberals did in arguing against welfare reform and now do in the Obamacare debate), chances are you will lose. Mitt Romney was wrong: The vast majority of Americans want to work and get ahead.
There is a link here between the left’s and right’s distasteful fare. Labor unions, of course, have historically opposed immigration (and free trade) in an effort to shield American workers from competition and keep wages artificially high (just as tariffs keep foreign products unaffordable). It hasn’t worked for labor unions, which are themselves going out of business in the private sector. More broadly speaking, Americans are determined to cling not just to guns and their Bible but to the promise that hard work, tenacity and heart can bring you a better life and a better life for your fellow Americans. Keeping people from being rewarded for hard work or keeping hard workers out is simply an anathema to most Americans.