"What is it about working men and women they find so offensive?" - asked the president, quoting the Late liberal lion Ted Kennedy. Actually, Mr. President, if this GOP race has done one thing, it has made clear exactly what it is about working men and women that the Republican party finds so offensive.
It is the idea of working people having a voice, a seat at the table, and a stake in the products they build. What the Republicans find offensive is the entire idea of the American labor movement - whereby workers deserve dignity, a level playing field, and a fair shot. For all of Rick Santorum's nostalgia about the giant hands of his grandfather that dug freedom for him, he would just as soon put the hands of today's workers under the boots of a race-to-the-bottom corporate culture before those hands can dig economic freedom for themselves, their families and their children.
The president himself pointed out what it was about the auto rescue that the Republicans really hated:
Or you've got folks saying, well, the real problem is -- what we really disagreed with was the workers, they all made out like bandits -- that saving the auto industry was just about paying back the unions. Really? (Laughter.) I mean, even by the standards of this town, that’s a load of you know what. (Laughter.)What Republicans will point out grimly is that these sacrifices came at a price to the car manufacturers too - the workers got to be part owners of the companies they put all of their hard work into and would again make emerge as the world's best by their own grit, perseverance and hard work. Heaven forbid that those who build, those who sweat, those who work with their hands own a piece of that pie. Why, that's socialism!
About 700,000 retirees had to make sacrifices on their health care benefits that they had earned. A lot of you saw hours reduced, or pay or wages scaled back. You gave up some of your rights as workers. Promises were made to you over the years that you gave up for the sake and survival of this industry -- its workers, their families. You want to talk about sacrifice? You made sacrifices. (Applause.) This wasn't an easy thing to do.
Imagine if this idea - that workers deserve to own a part of the products they build and the companies they build up - started to spread. Imagine if suddenly workers got a seat in the corporate boardrooms of the world. Imagine if workers were part of the the decisions that first affect them. Imagine if instead of simply chasing quarterly profit numbers, the depth and breath of the investment of workers were also part of corporate health.
That would make for a true ownership society: a society where working people own a piece of what they work so hard to make. What's wrong with that?
That's just it. That's what the Republicans find so offensive about working men and women. Their "ownership society" is one where a few own everything, and the rest are on their own. The GOP finds it offensive that workers could ever be owners. They find it offensive that workers can demand dignity, respect, and an honest wage. They find it offensive that working Americans are anything more than wage slaves for their corporate overlords. They find it offensive that there is a president who represents America's workers in the White House.
They find it offensive that in the midst of a sea of political opposition, dried up private credit and relentless media skepticism, there would be one man with the courage to stake his presidency to assist, rebuilt, and retool the backbone of American manufacturing. Even more offensive they find the idea that he would place his bets in the American worker, and win.