It’s All Slipping Away

It’s an old joke, but it bears repeating: An Oxford professor meets a former student on the street. He asks what he’s been up to lately. The student tells him he’s working on a doctoral thesis about the survival of the class system in the United States. The professor expresses surprise. “I didn’t think there was a class system in the United States,” he says. “Nobody does,” the student replies. “That’s how it survives.”

The widening chasm between the middle-class and the rich, coupled with the on-going, systematic assault on organized labor, isn’t simply the result of bad luck. It’s evidence of a well-oiled, coordinated drive, led by Wall Street and its minions, to separate and isolate the working class from the rest of the economy. It’s class warfare, plain and simple, and it’s being fought the way our “real” wars are fought—heavily muscled and sanitized.

Because there’s no scary opposition (not the Congress, the Church, organized labor, or citizen groups), the timing couldn’t be more perfect. The rich and powerful are seizing all they can get, and they’re doing it boldly, audaciously, in broad daylight, in front of our eyes, making it reminiscent of those frontier land-grabs where they took everything they wanted, greedily and aggressively, knowing no one could stop them.

So what can we do about it? Vote for progressives and hope for the best? Write to our congressmen? Write to the president?

Actually, we can write the president. Not that anything meaningful will result from it, but it’s easy to do. Anyone interested in getting an opinion heard, getting a gripe off their chest, presenting a personal manifesto, or simply hurling insults at the Oval Office can write to President Obama at this address: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

It might take a couple of months, but unless you’ve written a particularly vulgar letter, you’re going to get a response. Of course, it won’t be President Obama who writes you. Indeed, it’s unlikely he’ll even read your letter. Rather, it will a nameless and faceless intern assigned to mail duty who writes back.

About seven weeks ago I wrote the president, complaining about how pitifully little he’s done for working people. Beginning with his abandonment of the EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act, which would’ve made card-check the law of the land), and his appointment of his old Chicago crony, that anti-union shill Arne Duncan, as Secretary of Education, I lamented the fact that he has been a profound disappointment.

Because this was my first letter, and because I had such low expectations, I was more interested in testing the water than overwhelming the man with a long list of grievances, or coming off as aggressive and offensive. After all, isn’t that Ted Cruz’s job?

Accordingly, I avoided any hard-shell ideology. There was no mention of class distinctions, class warfare, dialectics, or the Democrats’ betrayal of the American worker. Instead, I politely expressed my surprise at his reluctance to use the bully pulpit to promote the virtues of organized labor, and very gingerly accused him of being either insincere or gutless when it came to supporting unions.

The following is his (his intern’s) response, filled with enough platitudes, weasel words, and assorted bullshit to give politicians a bad name. I would’ve preferred that he (his intern) had said, “Before you start bitching, fella, try dealing with a Congress so stubborn and vindictive, their sole goal is to see you fail.” But instead, I got platitudes. And call me nitpicky, but I also objected to his (his intern’s) use of the upper case in the word “Nation.”

Dear David:

Thank you for writing.  I have heard from many Americans about the concerns of working men and women, and I appreciate your perspective.
 
Since our Nation’s founding, we have relied on the firm resolve and commitment of working Americans.  These men and women are the backbone of our communities and power the engine of our economy. 
 
Workers have not always possessed the same rights and benefits many enjoy today.  But throughout our history, hardworking individuals have joined together to exercise their right to a voice in the workplace.  Through these efforts, the labor movement has improved the lives of countless working Americans and their families by representing their views and advocating for better wages and safe, fair working conditions.  Over time, this work has helped lay the cornerstones of middle-class security—the 40-hour workweek and weekends, paid leave and pensions, the minimum wage and health insurance, and Social Security and Medicare.  As we support the groundbreaking contributions of the American workers who have built our country and brightened our tomorrow, we must continue to protect the role and rights of workers in our national life, including their right to collective bargaining.
 
Every day, hard-working men and women across America prove that, even in difficult times, our Nation is still home to the most innovative, dynamic, and talented workers in the world.  Generations of working people have built our Nation—from our highways and skylines to the goods and services driving us in the 21st century.  My Administration remains committed to supporting their efforts in moving our economy forward.
 
Thank you, again, for writing.  I encourage you to read more about my Administration’s approach to this complex issue and other critical matters at www.WhiteHouse.gov.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor), was a former union rep. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net. Read other articles by David.