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View Diary: The Value - and Devaluation - of the Work Ethic (192 comments)

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  •  It's also a "framing" issue (none)
    Not that it's only about "framing", but we have to be careful about how we "frame" the concept of work, because the Repubs would be more than happy--and able--to distort it to use it against us. For example, they could easily frame the above as being anti-business, anti-free enterprise, anti-growth, etc., i.e. anti their concept of the American Dream, and thus anti-American itself.

    As for work, they could make it sound as if Dems wanted to rob hard-working Americans of their individualism by turning them into worker drones, by emphasizing collective work over individual effort and advancement. Never mind that in reality, Republicans' version of wealth restricts it to those who already have it and/or are willing to cut corners to get it, and their version of work completely robs individuals of any shred of dignity, individualism and hope--not to mention a decent standard of living.

    I agree with most of your points, but I just can't help but sense a certain "workers of the world unite" aspect to it that can and will be used against us, to taint us as anti-business collectivists, or worse, socialists or even communists. This will be especially effective with independants and moderate Republicans who are middle class or above, who will not be at all comfortable identifying themselves with a party that most strongly associates itself with the working class. We need to get back "Reagan Democrat" workers who've voted Republican in recent decades, but we also need to get back the middle class and independants--i.e. "Clinton Republicans". And  I'm not sure that casting the Democratic party as the party of the working class is the way to do that.

    Americans, of whatever class, like to believe in the dream and myth of upward mobility and the materially good life, whether or not they are likely to ever get there. Appealing to this colllective aspiration is part of how the GOP has been able to win election after election, and even though it has repeatedly failed to help most Americans fulfill that dream, and if anything promoted policies that made it even less likely to come true, they continue to own the "framing" debate on this. So long as they continue to do so, we're going to have a hard time competing on this.

    And I'm not convinced that we're going to win this framing war and thus win such people over with a "dignity of labor" approach, as noble as it may be, because its message that work is its own end implicitely tells workers that this is as good as it gets, and that no amount of effort is going to advance their material situation in life, so they might as well make the most of what they have and enjoy their work. Not many people are going to be inspired by that, and quite a few are going to be turned off by it.

    Don't misunderstand me, I agree that work is noble and its own reward, and we do need to be saying that as a party. But we should also be telling people--be they workers, the middle class, even the affluent--that their hard work should also be rewarded with some measure of material growth and stability, so they're not stuck going through life working hard but getting nowhere, or perenially at risk of sliding back or losing everything. The value of hard, honest work, combined with a promise of material growth and stability (i.e. the American Dream), is how we're going to win over people who've strayed over to the dark side of the political aisle in recent decades.

    "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

    by kovie on Sat Feb 04, 2006 at 01:43:13 PM PST

    •  I don't disagree with most of ... (4.00)
      ...what you're saying. But, you know, it's pitiful that we always have to be apologizing for speaking up for the 50% of the people in this county who own 5% of the wealth. But, as we know, it's "class warfare" when liberals try to make Republicans raise the minimum wage.
      •  Not apologizing at all (none)
        And that's yet another "frame" we need to stop enabling, let alone actively promoting. We're not apologizing for anything at all, nor do we have anything to apologize for. All we're saying (or, more accurately, all I'm saying that we need to be saying) is that no one should be deprived of the opportunity to do meaningful, useful, rewarding work, that they can both be proud of AND enjoy the fruits of, in a form of the American Dream.

        There's nothing wrong with owning OR working--they're really just flip sides of the same coin. By working, you morally "own" the fruits of your labor (or a reasonable portion of them, at least, if your work is done in a collective setting such as a corporation), are morally entitled to them, and have every legal right to them. Being paid an absymally low minimum wage and not getting minimal health insurance are but two of MANY ways in which the current economic structure deprives workers of the completely legitimate "ownership" of the fruits of their labor.

        Similarly, what are today considered to be "owners"--i.e. the corporate elite, rich people, etc.--should not necessarily be painted as evil non-workers who exploit their workers' labor to further enrich and empower themselves. Sure, there are plenty of such people (Enron, Worldcom, Global Crossing, Disney, etc.) to more than constitute a terrible norm. But there are also "owners" who started out as and often continue to be "workers" as well, and who do treat their employees (not to mention, in many cases, their customers and the environment) fairly and decently (e.g. Costco, Starbucks, Microsoft, Intel--whatever you think of these companies' products and business practices--and I admit that they betray a certain regional chauvanism on my part--they were all founded and are still run by very hard-working if also very competitive people).

        My point is that it's not an either/or situation between owners and workers. There can be a healthy symbiosis between the two, if not an actual duality in some cases (e.g. employee ownership and profit-sharing). And Democrats need to promote a vision of the role of and relationship between the two that benefits both, not just one at the expense of the other. Like it or not we live in a capitalist society and increasingly world, not a collectivist or socialist one, and the "workers first" approach simply will not sell in the wider public arena--let alone work in practice, I believe.

        So, no apologies. On the contrary, we need to proudly and loudly promote something along these lines, which, I believe, will easily trump the Repub's fatuous, phony and rediculous mantra of "let the marketplace determine the outcome", which is little more than discredited laissez-faire neoliberalism dressed up in latter-day neo-populist demagoguery, whose real intent is to further enrich and empower the rich and business elite at the expense of the workers who make it possible, not to mention their customers (who are often sold inferior if not outright dangerous products), the environment (which is often despoiled for their benefit), or taxpayers (who have to bear an unfair share of the national debt due to decreasing taxes on profit and capital gains).

        Clinton managed to pull off both the promotion and enacting of policies based on this concept of economic fairness AND growth, that benefited both labor AND ownership, whereas Bush's policies have been a sad, pointless, radical and ultimately destructive detour from this path. I think the party needs to get right back on this path, and sans the triangulationist selling out that typified Clinton's second term. Properly framed and promoted, this can easily be one of our primary tickets to surmounting the Repub's current (but rapidly fading) image as the party with the better economic ideas and policies.

        "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

        by kovie on Sat Feb 04, 2006 at 03:59:33 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I'll pass (none)
      their hard work should also be rewarded with some measure of material growth and stability, so they're not stuck going through life working hard but getting nowhere, or perenially at risk of sliding back or losing everything. The value of hard, honest work, combined with a promise of material growth and stability (i.e. the American Dream),

      Should be?  Why?  Is that part of the Democratic religion?  That there is some divine or natural law that says this must be so?  (Which bible tells us so?)

      And how much material growth does your bible say is enough before you start calling someone a materialistic Republican?

      Stuck working hard but getting nowhere?  This speaks only to people who aren't happy where they are.  And this, I think is more a frame of mind than an economic condition.  When I canvassed for Kerry, I couldn't help note that the black Democrats living in very modest houses on very modest wages always seemed ever so much happier than the white Democrats living in nice middle-class neighborhoods.  I think the black Democrats thought they already were, friends, good work to do, what more could they want?  I think the white Democrats are the ones chasing "material growth" and they will always be nowhere.

      Losing everything?  You mean material things are everything, right?

      •  Losing everything materially (none)
        That's what I meant. Clearly, there's vastly more to life than one's income, monetary worth and material possessions. In fact, I think that most people (well, Democrats at least) would say that such things are secondary in importance to the things that most matter in life, namely family, friends, good health, meaningful work and other interests and activities, spiritual contentment, values, etc.

        Nevertheless, the former are not without some importance, and, I'd argue, to most people they are of great importance, however secondary they are to these more important things. It's not an either/or situation where you have to choose between one or the other. And to most people who value such material things, however secondarily, losing them, especially losing all of them, is extremely upsetting. Just ask anyone who survived Katrina with only themselves and their friends and family intact--these are not very happy people, and understandably so.

        I think that you're inadvertantly playing into one of the right's most effective ways of getting economically disadvantaged people (mostly white) to vote for them even though their policies demonstrably hurt these people. Namely, by stressing the importance of non-material things over material things. When you get people to think this way, you can get away with all sorts of crap, which the right has been doing for decades now.

        I.e. we might not make you any richer. In fact, we're probably making you poorer. But look at it this way, Jesus didn't want you to be rich so much as he wanted you to help outlaw abortion and gay marriage, even if it meant getting and staying poor in the process, and that's what most counts, isn't it? Better to be rich in faith than rich in money, right?

        Well, it doesn't have to be one or the other. That is, while money and material riches might not be what life is all about, they are important nonetheless, especially in our society, and I don't see why a party has to be for one or the other, or why people should be expected to have one but not the other. Rich Republicans certainly don't seem to think so. So why shouldn't that apply to everyone else?

        "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

        by kovie on Sun Feb 05, 2006 at 03:12:46 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  OK... (none)
          I think we are, if not on the same page, at least reading the same book.

          I would say that Democrats present themselves as being interested in the well-being of the employed/poor and they present Republicans as being interested in the well-being of the employers/rich.  Republicans present themselves as being interested in the well-being of business (which theoretically benefits employers and employees and would-be employees) and Democrats as being interested in taking wealth away from business to improve the well-being of the workers/poor.  I think you are saying that the Democrats need to be careful about not playing into the perception that they are inherently opposed to wealth and those that have it.  

          Problem is...I think many Democrats have that attitude.  (Although, human nature being what it is, that doesn't mean they don't want to be wealthy themselves.)  Often the Democrats come off as just being jealous of the Republicans.  Or at least their idea of Republicans...the people who have stuff I don't, and that's not fair, so they should be forced to give some of it to me.

          Off topic, if you really agree with Mead that the only thing that's ever really changed the world is a small group of thoughtful, committed people, what to do you expect from a big political party, I wonder?

          •  Hey, it's a good book (none)
            I agree with you that Democrats are not only often perceived as being the party of the little guy, but that they often present themselves as such, which only feeds this perception.

            Clinton did a fairly good job (some would argue TOO good a job) of changing this perception and getting relatively affluent people to vote for him, but this perception still exists, I think.

            I think we need to work at changing this perception, because it's not just wrong, but hurts us politically as well. But we're running against two tides here, one in the public perception, and the other within the party.

            I think it can be done, with the right sort of candidate and platform. But then the danger becomes that we sell out the party's "small guy" image AND emphasis to DLC drones like Vilsack.

            It's a tough needle to thread, and only Clinton was able to do it till now at the national level. But I still think we need to "widen the tent" to include a pro-ethical business platform that benefits boths owners and workers. It's not just politically necessary in a culture that more than ever values money and business, but practically necessary in a world and economy that makes them undeniably important.

            As for my sig line, what I'm really referring to is the ability of relatively small "factions" either within or outside a party, or even across party lines, to effect positive change in the face of mainstream resistance. It doesn't happen that often, but it does happen.

            The civil rights movement is a classic and perfect example. It was more than just one brave woman on a bus, but it started out as a very small and marginalized movement, and while it's still an ongoing fight, it can't be denied that they helped make possible incredible advances in civil rights in the US.

            Other successful examples are the abolition, labor, suffrage and gay rights movements. They all started small but eventually gained mainstream acceptance and success (to one degree or another, at least).

            "Our" movement is not there yet, but it's still picking up steam, and could well--eventually--put a stop to the right's excesses--with no time left to lose. It may or may not succeed, but it's absolutely worth pursuing, and perhaps the only thing that can or will ultimately stop them.

            "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

            by kovie on Sun Feb 05, 2006 at 07:13:43 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  But a Different Chapter (none)
              Well...before I write another whole long monlogue, maybe I should ask:

              >>"Our" movement is not there yet

              Which movement is that?

              >>the only thing that can or will ultimately stop them

              Who are they?

              •  Diversity is good (none)
                We are Democrats, aren't we? Big tent, etc.

                Anyway, by "movement" I simply meant the loose coalition of people and organizations, mostly on the left but also in some cases in the middle and even right, who are trying to block and reverse BushCo's policies and agenda, and, for the left at least, retake the house, senate and white house, and, in so doing, be able to restore some semblence of sanity, good sense and order to our currently sick political system.

                And by "them", I of course meant BushCo--i.e. Bush, the administration, his toadies in the house and senate, and the entire right-wing apparatus and its political agenda.

                By "us" vs. "them" I mean less a conflict between political and ideological opponents than one between people who have some respect for the law and the national interest--and demonstrate it through their actions--and people who don't--and demonstrate that through their actions.

                I don't have a problem with Republicans or even conservatives. But I do have a problem with people who break the law, subvert the constitution, kill innocent people for no good reason, bankrupt our economy and destroy our country, among many other crimes and misdeeds. I'd be just as upset with them if they were Democrats, but these days these just happen to be Republicans and conservatives--or so they call themselves.

                "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

                by kovie on Mon Feb 06, 2006 at 12:00:40 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Yeah, a different chapter (none)
                  "We are Democrats, aren't we?"

                  Not me.  I'm unaffiliated.

                  As for stopping BushCo...I think that chance came and went on November 2 2004.  

                  I'm pretty doubtful that the Dems can take back the Congress in 2006, when they weren't able to defeat what was arguably the worst administration in modern US history.  The only way I see Congress turning blue is if the Republicans who voted for their own lesser of evil in 2004 decide to express their unhappiness with their party in 2006.

                  Even so, if the Dems take back the Congress in 2006 and then move toward impeachment, it will be too little too late.  Most likely, the politicians will scratch each other's backs and, after an intentionally long, drawn-out affair (the better to stir up emotions among the constituency on both sides for 2008), they'll settle on a pseudo-impeachment like Clinton's at a time when lame-duckyness is starting to set in, anyway.

                  The Dems will get so wrapped up in the whole impeachment thing, they will most likely forget that they have a pretty skimpy bench (IMO) for 2008.  Then the Republicans will roll out a moderate who promises a "kinder, gentler" America, and, because the Republicans never really cared whether GW got hisself impeached or not (because they rarely confuse the show with the real game), they will be organized to elect whomever, while the Democrats will have been too distracted by the pseudo-impeachment to get organized.

                  Or maybe not.  Time will tell.  Not all that much time, either.

                  In any case, I've thumbed past the BushCo chapter...I think all that's pretty well settled now, although some of it has yet to play out.  I'm looking down the road to What's Next.

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