Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Don't Back Down

A skirmish is ensuing between the AFL-CIO and the administration of Barack Obama. Following the primary victory on Tuesday of incumbent Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas over her progressive challenger, Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, Ben Smith of Politico reported

A senior White House official just called me with a very pointed message for the administration's sometime allies in organized labor, who invested heavily in beating Blanche Lincoln, Obama's candidate, in Arkansas.

"Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members' money down the toilet on a pointless exercise," the official said. "If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November."

Lincoln relied heavily both on Obama's endorsement, which she advertised relentlessly on radio and in the mail, and on the backing of former President Bill Clinton, who backed her to the hilt.

Lincoln foe Bill Halter had the unstinting support of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME and other major unions. And labor officials Tuesday evening were already working to spin the narrow loss of their candidate, Bill Halter, as a moral victory, but the cost in money and in the goodwill of the White House may be a steep price to pay for a near miss.

Fortunately, the AFL-CIO responded promptly, with its spokesman Eddie Vale (no, not this Vale) explaining

If that's their take on this, then they severely misread how the electorate feels and how we're running our political program. When we say we're only going to support elected officials who support our issues. When they say we should have targeted our money among some key house races among Blue Dog Democrats — that ain't happening.

Labor isn't an arm of the Democratic Party. It exists to support working families. And that's what we said tonight, and that's what we're gong to keep saying.

Organized labor isn't the puppy dog of the Democratic Party, though sometimes it is so perceived, to the detriment of both the labor movement and the party whose candidates it usually supports. It's not too wise to tell the American people that Barack Obama expects labor to march in lockstep with his Party.

Labor need to eschew personality crusades and instead support the issues which benefit its members, for to do otherwise would be a severe disservice to those members. That should be obvious to the White House but evidently is not, and may be reflected in the apparent threat from the administration delivered via Smith: the loss of "money and goodwill," as the journalist put it, from the White House.

Perhaps the AFL-CIO isn't really frightened of retaliation from its reluctance to play Stepford Wife to President Obama. Blanche Lincoln, for instance, pledged to filibuster against a health care public option, which we were led to believe and are still being told, President Obama supported. Yet, there was President Obama doing a robocall on behalf of Lincoln, a conservative Democrat, in her (successful) bid to derail the candidacy of Bill Halter.

And then there is the case of Joe Lieberman. In April, 2008, asked if Obama is a Marxist, Lieberman replied "I must say, that’s a good question … I will tell you that during this campaign, I’ve learned some things about him, about the kind of environment from which he came ideologically. And I wouldn’t … I’d hesitate to say he’s a Marxist, but he’s got some positions that are far to the left of me and I think mainstream America."

The next month he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer "the fact that the spokesperson for Hamas would say they would welcome the election of Senator Obama really does raise the question, "Why?" And it suggests the difference between these two candidates."

In August, 2008 he framed the upcoming presidential election as "between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not.’’

The next month, Lieberman delivered a nominating speech for Obama's opponent, Republican John McCain, then a few days later shamelessly admonished nominee Obama for voting to "cut off funding for our troops on the ground."

After he was elected, President-elect Obama, saying he "doesn't hold any grudges" against Lieberman, gave his de facto support to keep a position as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee to the man who implied Obama may be a Marxist, is supported by Islamic terrorists, does not put the country first, and wants American soldiers to be shot dead in combat. It's one thing to forgive- it's quite another to boost an avid opponent against another Democrat (who would have become chairman) who supported Obama's election.

Has Barack Obama changed? Probably not. In May at the White House, President Obama presented the Duke Blue Devils with a plaque honoring their NCAA basketball championship. He joked “(Coach K) went out with all these guys and won, so he could come to the White House and crow bout it. Payback is sweet, isn’t it, coach?"

Obama's reference to "payback" derived from his failure to pick Duke to win the national championship but could have been to something far different. Shortly before the tournament began in March, coach Krzyzewski, informed that Obama had selected Duke rival North Carolina to win the national championship, took a shot at the President: "Somebody said that we're not in President Obama's Final Four, and as much as I respect what he's doing, really, the economy is something that he should focus on, probably more than the brackets."

It may be helpful, though really odd, for a basketball coach to remind us that in the full scope of a nation's priorities, sports doesn't matter. And admittedly, this doesn't rise nearly to the level of Lincoln or even Lieberman. But for criticizing President Obama for doing what a U.S. President does, "Coach K" (cute, isn't it?) gets this: Barack Obama joyfully reminding the guy that he stuck it to him and came out on top.

And now, a White House official warns if you oppose us, we'll cut you off? Incumbent Lincoln (who only recently was not favored to win her race), Lieberman, who defeated the Democrat (the Republican was less than a token opponent) in his re-election bid, and Krzyzewski had one thing in common: they were winners. Organized labor, meanwhile, has failed to obtain card check or even a modified Employeees Fair Check Act, to derail an excise tax on comprehensive health care plans, or to prevent an increase in premium costs for COBRA health coverage. Nor did its efforts to elect Barack Obama resulted in a President whose highest economic priority is restoration and creation of jobs. The message to the union movement is clear: stick to your program and criticize President Obama whenever necessary; win at least once, and you won't have to come begging to President Obama. He will come to you.

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