Disrespecting Workers

I’ve been increasingly fascinated by the extent to which the latter-day Republican idolatry of “job-creators” reflects not simply disdain for people “dependent on government,” but also for those dependent on job-creators for a paycheck. From GOP rhetoric, you’d never know working stiffs contribute anything to the U.S. economy, but you would definitely know they are a big problem whenever they join a union or expect job security or resist any public or private concessions their employers claim are necessary to keep them from closing down or moving elsewhere.

Paul Krugman offers another good example of this mindset that I had not focused on:

[C]onsider Mr. Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. What did he have to say about American workers? Actually, nothing: the words “worker” or “workers” never passed his lips. This was in strong contrast to President Obama’s convention speech a week later, which put a lot of emphasis on workers — especially, of course, but not only, workers who benefited from the auto bailout.

And when Mr. Romney waxed rhapsodic about the opportunities America offered to immigrants, he declared that they came in pursuit of “freedom to build a business.” What about those who came here not to found businesses, but simply to make an honest living? Not worth mentioning.

I don’t have the numbers handy, but I’m guessing a pretty high percentage of immigrants to the United States over the decades have lived and died as wage earners.

Now no one expects Republicans to offer many rhetorical bouquets to the horny-handed sons and daughters of toil. That’s just not who they are. But at a time when the economy is supposedly the overriding issue in public life, and conservatives are demanding a return to what they call economic and fiscal fundamentals, you’d think there would be some accounting for how labor contributes to growth and national well-being. Instead honest labor is treated as insignificant unless it is personally conjoined with capital, and otherwise is an inexhaustible commodity to be secured by “job-creators” as cheaply as is possible, in the U.S. or around the world. You almost wonder why Republicans even bother to talk about “jobs.” Those are simply the incidental bounty of the creative genius of the capitalist, a gift to the dull and improvident non-capitalists whose lives make no real mark on the world.

It would be nice if white working-class voters, quite a few of whom do not own their own businesses, began to notice what GOP politicians actually think of them.

Washington Monthly - Donate Today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.