Lunch Pail Joe Has Part of the Answer

It’s not surprising that a guy who grew up in Scranton would see the revival of manufacturing jobs as the key to saving democracy. But that guy is only partially right.

I’m in the 40% of Americans who approve of the job Joe Biden is doing. The most important thing about the guy is that he understands the threats to American democracy, foreign and domestic. Roughly summed up, the foreign threat is China and the domestic threat is Donald Trump.

Biden recognizes that blue collar workers are so angry and frustrated by being left behind in the global economy that they will do desperate things, like vote for Trump. To address that he’s pushing the creation of new manufacturing jobs and he’s having success. In fact, there are now more manufacturing jobs in the U.S. then there were before the economic meltdown in 2008. Credit that to Biden’s infrastructure bill, his computer chip bill and his work on clean energy manufacturing. (Note: Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson has voted against all of this.)

Biden’s doing the right thing. But it’s only part of the right thing. In order to blunt the appeal of hard-right populism, he and his fellow Democrats need to take at least three more steps.

They have to recognize that “blue collar” doesn’t describe most workers. The problem that the Democrats have with workers isn’t just among those in factory jobs. It’s people with two year degrees in medical fields or accounting. It’s assistant managers at Wal-Marts. It’s auto mechanics and bakers and small business owners. I wrote about this on Labor Day: when Democrats think about the working class they still think about union members going to work in steel factories and coal mines. But that’s not what most American workers look like today.

They have to speak to workers’ values. This is another thing I harp on. Democrats get frustrated because they see themselves as championing all of these pro-worker policies only to have those workers vote for the other guys. It happens because most people are motivated more by their values than by their own economic self-interests — ironically, Donald Trump is very much an exception to that rule. And the Democratic brand is trashed. Working class folks view the party as obsessed with identity politics, eager to give away their tax dollars to people who don’t deserve it, and, most importantly, openly dismissive of anybody without a college degree. And when they express those frustrations, Democrats call them racists.

And finally, Democrats need to find some way to get credit for the good jobs they’re creating that don’t require a college degree. To be sure, Biden’s strategy is only part of what he needs to do, but it’s still important. I’m not at all confident that he and his party are getting credit for it. He’s trying, showing up at plant openings and the like, but I’m not sure it’s enough. As long as others in his party keep pushing various forms of identity politics, nothing will be able to overcome that.

Biden’s right about the threats to democracy and he’s got part of the answer. But what’s needed is a fundamental refocus in the values and emphasis of his party. Unfortunately, I just don’t see that happening.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

10 thoughts on “Lunch Pail Joe Has Part of the Answer

  1. Again, I agree with your assessment. I’d add that Joe Biden is a decent human being who, while partisan, seems to truly care about the entire country, not just the states that supported him in 2020. He doesn’t send out juvenile Tweets that call people silly names, he has restored a sense of integrity to the office and I really can’t think of anything that he’s done to embarrass the country. I like the guy and would love to sit down and enjoy a cold Lionshead beer (from Scranton’s twin, Wilkes-Barre) with him. Having said that, he’s really very old and needs to pass the torch to a younger generation. He should announce those intentions in January, if not sooner. While it’s not completely analagous, could you imagine your favorite sports team hiring an 80 year old to lead the club? The White Sox tried it and look what happened. In the meantime, I think Joe Biden is doing a good job, especially when you compare him to the alternative.

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  2. I’ve heard it said that Democratic politicians don’t have mirrors in their homes. Lest one think I’m inferring that Democratic politicians are blood-sucking vampires who can never die, I don’t mean to imply that. I mean that they appear to be constitutionally unable to look in the mirror for the problems they blame others for. The greatest threat to the world, democratic, republican, socialist, etc is the game of nuclear chicken that Biden is playing through his clown puppet Zelenskyy. Seconded only by his hinting that the leader of the country with the most nukes, Putin, should be overthrown.

    Biden’s economic policies have yet to have any effect on jobs, and plainly have a lot to do with inflation.

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    1. “Biden’s economic policies… plainly have a lot to do with inflation.”

      Can you cite any evidence of that? Inflation is occurring globally, and even more sharply in many places including the UK – which has been controlled for the past 12 years by conservatives who haven’t enacted policies similar to Biden’s.

      The current inflation is almost entirely a product of:

      -supply chain woes
      -COVID-related labor shortages
      -War in Ukraine
      -corporate consolidation due to decades of unchecked mergers and lack of anti-trust action by both parties that exacerbates supply chain woes. (Look no further than the baby formula shortages that occurred because one company that controls 42% of the market has issues at one factory).

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      1. PS to yeegads:
        I am in complete agreement with you about corporate consolidation.
        IMO, our form of government is corporatism: Corporate control of government. Political parties are mostly irrelevant. It’s just Pepsi or Coke.

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    2. “Biden’s economic policies have yet to have any effect on jobs, and plainly have a lot to do with inflation.”

      Not sure where you’re going with the jobs part. I’m under the impression that the unemployment rate is pretty low. Do you mean that it’s too hard to fill jobs because the labor market is so robust? Seems like that’s a better problem than the opposite.

      Inflation: this is occurring worldwide, it is not simply the fault of US government policy, though the capitalist media certainly wants that to be the narrative. It has much more to do with the free market flow of capital and investment – it is a natural cyclical byproduct of how we have allowed capital markets to function. We could certainly dampen inflation if we restricted the “economic freedom” of commodities traders.

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      1. Yeegads, Rollie;

        Inflation – we are in a recession – defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. When in recession, grossly increasing gov’t spending – Biden’s adminstration is on track to spend >$6 Trillion this year – is inflationary by anyone’s definition.

        What normally happens when money becomes more expensive – the Fed’s dramatic increasing of interest rates – is you borrow less. Biden is doing the opposite. Inflationary.

        The government debt to GDP ratio has dramatically expanded under Biden. With interest rate increases for the foreseeable future, Debt-to-GDP will worsen. Also inflationary.

        The employment rate has improved under Biden. The employment rate flat-lined in 2020/2021 due to lockdown policies enacted by Trump’s administration. Once lockdowns were rescinded, the jobs rate improved. What exactly did Biden’s adminstration due to improve the trend? As a small business owner, I can say that the temporary doubling of unemployment benefits directly impacted the ability to hire people.

        Covid-related shortages are the result of lockdown policies. The impact of lockdowns on improving health outcomes is questionable at best; the costs are not. They were not an act of God – ie out of anyone’s control or responsibility. The decision to enact lockdown policies has had, and will continue to have, grave consequences across every aspect of our lives. Trump started the lockdowns, Biden dramatically increased them.

        Rollie, you make standard Marxist assertions like restricting the economic freedom of commodities traders would dampen inflation. What evidence do you have that it would reduce inflation? ie, that this policy has worked anywhere at anytime?

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      2. No evidence, just logic. Also – food, steel and energy are the main areas I care about inflation in. I don’t care at all if beanie babies, tulip bulbs, Bitcoin, fine art, etc. enter into inflationary spirals.

        For instance, it costs some amount of effort/money to get oil from the ground, refined, and eventually into our cars. When the price of oil suddenly doubles, it’s not because it suddenly actually took twice as much effort/money to get it into our cars. It suddenly doubles because traders speculate on the commodity to make profit.

        Sure, a refinery can go off-line and disrupt supply, but that could, if we wanted it to, only disrupt the amount of gas available and not the price. We could also close our oil/gas market to the global economy and insulate ourselves from foreign supply disruptions – if we wanted to. Most people don’t want to, and I’m ok with living in a democracy so it is what it is.

        Government spending, interest rates, government debt – sure, they all impact the economy too. But it’s the capitalist media blame game to pin it ALL there, and there is a big political factor in this – people doing this blaming want Democrats out for lots of reasons.

        Money is great when it’s used to efficiently facilitate turning one commodity someone has excess of into another commodity they need. C – M – C. Money is perverse and harmful when it is used to horde useful commodities and drive up their price for profit. M – C – M. The trick is how to figure out how to keep the long C – M – C – M – C – M chain as useful as possible while minimizing the perversion. I don’t have all the answers for that.

        Those that make money from owning money (those that perverse money’s utility) have run the world throughout recorded history. Anyone who has ever tried to undermine that power has been put under tremendous and unrelenting attacks by the most powerful force of each era. So what evidence do we have beyond logic? None. Even the very word Marx is a swear word beyond any other.

        PS, please know that I do not lump small business owners in with those who make money off having money. I’m talking about the very rich that actually have power. Every small business owner I know works. You have to have a pretty big business to get away with not working 😉

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      3. Hmm, nice, a more nuanced discussion, thank you.

        Here’s a quote from Winston Churchill:
        “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”

        We could substitute capitalism for democracy with equal effect. imo of course.

        The sometimes obscene accumulation of wealth that is possible in our highly distorted form of capitalism is capitalism’s weakest point. I think. Rockefellers, Carnegies, Roosevelts, Gates, etc, etc, etc are all well-known examples of how obscene amounts of wealth can distort society and culture to the image these scions think is best. I abhor these effects and the enabling impact of their wealth. However, substituting any other system – Marxism for example – is far more disastrous. We do not need to rely on logical assertions to figure this out. I am not happy this is so, but it is.

        The ‘free’ market, in quotes because of the distortion we see, generally determines prices. The demand for oil is higher than the supply. China’s and India’s economies are growing. Their thirst for oil is increasing. Oil speculators can speculate on local effects, but they do not determine costs. The only way I am aware of that a speculator can directly impact large swings is by cornering a market. No one I am aware has any corner in oil. Partly because there are so many corners.

        Inflation and its causes are extremely complicated. With that said, Biden’s policies are adding fuel to the fire, which seems to be his MO. Look to Ukraine for another example.

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      4. Thanks Michael Leger.
        I think you’re saying that democracy is best way forward, and I totally agree with that. I wish the Republican Party agreed – that’s an issue that is more important than economics to me. I don’t want any single person’s philosophy to be the way we collectively live; mine, Marx or anyone. Its best if we blend ideas from everywhere. That’s why I believe in democracy.

        I agree about the corrupting influence of concentrated wealth/power. I think we could limit that without full on communism if we had something closer to democracy.

        I wonder if it’s inherent in energy markets that the demand will always outpace supply? Humans seem to have an insatiable desire for ever more energy/power. My personal philosophy leads me to the conclusion that this aspect of humanity will lead to our ultimate extinction.

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  3. Answering your last point first Rollie, I am cautiously optimistic about our future.

    In the US, I think we are in for hard times, possibly harder than we have faced since the Civil War. Globally, unless whoever is controlling Biden tightens up on his puppet strings, we continue down a path of potential catastrophe. So for me, the Democrats are the greatest danger to peace, whatever form of government is chosen, in the world.

    I think democracy and capitalism are the best choices available. With that said, capitalism can be brutal, so we need to figure out ways to compensate for that.

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