Russell's Blog

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Making New Friends

Posted by Russell on October 20, 2006 at 3:37 a.m.
It's finally starting to happen -- the so-called "chamber of commerce" conservatives are throwing up their hands and walking away from the Republican party. They've finally started to realize that their interests don't align with the Republican party. The Democratic Party is going to find itself swelling with refugees fleeing the GOP meltdown. These folks aren't liberal by any stretch of the imagination, but somehow the Democratic Party is going to have to figure out what to do with them. They've never been part of the Democratic coalition before, but they are going to be, like it or not.

To emphasize how important this is going to be, look at it this way. For the first time, Union and Management are going to find themselves in the same party. How is that going to work? This isn't an abstract question. If the Democrats regain control of the government, they are going to have to write and pass legislation. If they are going to govern effectively (and stay in power), they are going to have to figure out how to write legislation that keeps both Union and Management constituencies happy. How?

It will not be possible to avoid the issue. Business conservatives are showing up at our doorstep with suitcases of issues that have been ignored under the Republican reign. The enforcement agencies that police financial markets have been allowed to rot, and as a result corruption is mushrooming. What enforcement actions are undertaken are often seen as political haymaking, not effective market supervision. In spite of decades of pandering to small business owners, the GOP tax cuts have done little to ease their tax burden. The collapse of public education in many communities has made it more difficult to hire competent workers. The intolerance and bigotry of the extreme right wing of the Republican party has alienated many people that business conservatives would rather keep as friends. "Who cares if they're gay? They're paying customers," such people might say.

On the other hand, working folks have been getting screwed since the '70s, and things are starting to get desperate. After the women's rights movement in the '60s allowed women who wanted careers to take their place in the workforce, the rising cost of living in the '70s forced the rest of them to find work. The average age of retirement has continued to climb, so that when most people are ready to start families, their parents are still working. Changes in the job market have made a college degree nearly mandatory, so children can't start working until many years after reaching adulthood. Nevertheless, the cost of living is still rising faster than wages, and unless we repeal the child labor laws, families have no one left to send to work.

The one issue where I think Union and Management would agree is this: Health care costs too much. This doesn't automatically mean that the solution is a nationalized health care system, but it does mean that the Democrats are going to have to do something about this issue. The strong presence of liberals and conservatives in the party that will likely write and pass the resulting legislation will, I hope, lead to a plan that avoids the hereditary mistakes of both camps. The new conservative Democrats will push for a plan that is simple, cost effective, limited in scope, and flexible. The liberal Democratic old-guard will push for a plan that is universal, progressive, generous, and fair. What America actually needs is a plan that is all of those things at once.

There are other issues where business conservatives and labor Democrats will be able to find common ground. After a decade of outsourcing manufacturing jobs to China, American businesses are starting to wake up to discover that their offshoring partners are now offshore competitors. Competitors that receive billions of dollars of subsidies (I mean "investments") from their respective governments. When their former partners start selling products on their own, the American company finds itself without a factory and competing with its own products. Their once proud enterprises in ruins, American manufacturing executives and American union bosses have shuffled into the same dusty saloon. Hopefully, the newcomers won't be too offended when union Democrats answer their complaints with, "Told you so."

Clearly, America has to get its dependence on Chinese manufacturing under control. We need to rebuild our manufacturing sector and reinitialize the cycle of investment and innovation. The traditional solution offered by union Democrats is import tariffs. This is probably a dumb idea. Hopefully business conservatives will bring some new ideas to the table.

There will probably be a lot of fighting. Culturally, there is a huge gulf between "chamber of commerce" conservatives and the rest of the Democratic party. Some of that animosity has been around since before the Civil War. If this coalition is going to work, Democrats are going to have to work extremely hard. If it is successful, it would be a turning point in America's history. Bringing commercial interests into harmony with labor, environmental and progressive social interests would unleash a great dancing, happy monster into the world.

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