Tonight in Chicago seven of the Democratic presidential candidates will be participating in a campaign forum sponsored by the AFL-CIO. The always-cheerful and disinterested Keith Olbermann of MSNBC will moderate the event at Soldier Field.
What possible news value could this have? The candidates have all already pledged their allegiance to the Big Labor’s agenda, including enactment of the expletive-deletedly named Employee Free Choice Act. There’s a little dust-up over one of Hillary Clinton’s PR advisors, whose firm has boasted about helping corporations resist union demands. Former one-term Senator John Edwards is trying to stake out the most protectionist, anti-trade position of all the candidates, so we’ll probably see a competition on how best to kill jobs that way. Otherwise? The size of the audience is of passing interest, but if there’s one thing organized labor is good at, it’s producing big crowds, even if they have to pay them to show up.
Besides, as Bryan O’Keefe writes in the AEI’s “The American,” since everyone is on board what’s said tonight really won’t matter. Labor is now more interested in winning as the only way to halt their plummeting membership.
This election year, labor will not fall for a candidate simply because he or she is the talk of Washington or has walked in a strike line in Youngstown. They want to show that, even with their dwindling numbers, they really do matter. They want to be endorsing the eventual Democratic nominee, not another runner-up. This means that labor will probably not endorse John Edwards, at least while he is finishing a distant third behind Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama in the polls.
The winner of the Democratic primary is still a long way from being determined. Tonight’s debate will be an easy opportunity for the Democratic candidates to reaffirm their already stated public support for labor’s legislative goals. Actually winning an endorsement from organized labor will be much more difficult.
And not to be decided this evening.
So we must look for highlights in the rhetoric, not the substance. Chicago, eh? Points for mentioning the Cubs? Michael Jordon? Studs Terkel or Upton Sinclair? Hmmm. Upton Sinclair…”The Jungle”….tainted food….China. Yeah, that might work.
And, given moderator Olbermann’s paranoia, he’ll probably turn the battle of competing sound-bites toward the topic of free speech and domestic oppression, wiretapping, FISA, that kind of thing. Sure, you can bet on that.
So we hereby declare the victor of tonight’s presidential forum. The big winner will be: Whoever first mentions the Chicago Haymarket Riot.
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