Edward Udel: Points of contention


DALTON -- In his election post-mortem, "The Party of Work" (Eagle op-ed, Nov. 10), David Brooks of The New York Times suggests that the Republican Party must reframe its message. Pointing out that the Republicans have lost five out of the last six national presidential popular votes, he argues that a diminishing percentage of the electorate believes that government is intrusive and destructive. He suggests that the Republican Party would be better served with a new identity as the party of the industrious, the party of work.

Brooks' argument about the need to change the message stands in stark contrast to those ideologues who argue that Romney lost because he wasn't conservative enough. Polling conducted throughout the election cycle, suggests otherwise. While approaching the first debate, Governor Romney held the right wing line on most issues and he was trailing badly in the polls. In the first debate, he lurched to the middle and surprised President Obama with softer more moderate positions. He was no longer a "severely conservative" candidate. His surge in the polls from that point forward suggests that more moderate positions that he etched and sketched for the occasion clearly enjoyed greater popularity among the undecided voters.

Mr. Brooks, a self-identified conservative, may be correct when he suggests that those who are suspicious and distrustful of government no longer constitute a voting majority. But there is another factor, perhaps even more fundamental, that may explain voting patterns underscored and symbolized by Jack Welch's entry into the political fray when he expressed suspicion that unemployment had not really dipped below 8 percent as reported in early October.

Under Jack Welch's leadership, profit became General Electric's most important product. Any GE product line that didn't produce impressive financial gains was eliminated. As more and more jobs were shed, and greater profits were realized, Mr. Welch became a trend setter. G.E. share holders saw their stocks split repeatedly, doubling and tripling in value. His CEO performance was considered either masterful or ruthless. Among investors, Mr. Welch gained heroic status and was rewarded accordingly.

However, thousands of American General Electric employees who lost their jobs had a very different reaction. Jack Welch's brand of success has been embraced by many Republicans who view government regulation as interference and union representation as evil. They often put investors ahead of workers, profit ahead of people. During the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, 20 percent of American manufacturing jobs were exported to other nations. This steady erosion of jobs has been facilitated by trade treaties supported by both Republicans and Democrats. Cheap labor in other countries combined with specialized technical skill and knowledge more readily available elsewhere have contributed to outsourcing, a euphemistic term used to represent the eradication of American jobs. Today, only 54 percent of General Electric's work force lives in the U.S.

During the recent presidential campaign, Bain's practice of squeezing the profits out of endangered companies was stoutly defended. Anyone who raises a critical voice about "vulture capitalism" is often branded as anti-American and anti-free enterprise. Many Republicans have consistently argued that the private sector should operate without the interference of government. They believe that private enterprise will create more jobs than it snuffs out and that corporate success will lead to economic growth.

They consistently advocate the elimination of all regulations that cost businesses money and reduce profit. Union benefit packages are demonized. Republicans are consistently opposed to minimum wage increases, environmental regulations and the imposition of safety standards. Collectively, these are branded as "big government." The traditional constituency of the Democratic Party includes workers who support or tolerate unions, advocate for stricter environmental laws and safety regulations and better wages and benefits for the work force.

Clearly there is tension between those who view government's role as serving the needs of the citizenry and those who see government's primary role as serving the needs of corporations and businesses. Citizens require clean air and uncontaminated water. Corporations require greater and greater profit margins and oppose costly environmental regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency, a creation of Richard Nixon, is a favorite target of those who favor profit over health.

In his final paragraph, Mr. Brooks suggests that Republicans should cede the welfare state to Democrats. "Let Democrats be the party of security, defending the 20th century welfare state." It is somewhat surprising that he has conveniently forgotten to mention the corporate welfare supported by his party.

Before the Republican Party can authentically wear the party of work title, it must develop policies that support the people who do the work and balance the needs of investors with citizens, private enterprise with the public good. That balance should be sought by both political parties and that can only be done with practical problem solving and compromise. If we continue to insist that one side must prevail over the other, we will only prolong our agony and widen the growing gap between the rich and the rapidly disappearing middle class.

Edward Udel is an occasional Eagle contributor.


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