Apparently, while I was on vacation last week George McGovern - who I've been on the fence about for years - embarassed himself with an editorial in the WSJ attacking EFCA (the Employee Free Choice Act), and in the process repeating every tired right-wing argument from the Ken Mehlman Anti-Labor Handbook: the "secret ballot" nonsense, the "new economy that changes everything" myth (also known as "the 9/11 meme") wherein the crashing of 2 planes into 2 towers 7 years ago is the reason workers shouldn't be asking for raises and should be grateful to be paid the minimum wage.
Last week the talk of our progressive blogosphere, and with good reason, was the Wall Street Journal editorial by 1972 Democratic nominee George McGovern, the Pope of Principled Liberalism, arguing the right-wing line on the Employee Free Choice Act, liberals' most promising strategy in a generation to make joining a union easier and more fair.
It was creepy. It was embarrassing.
To my friends supporting EFCA I say this: We cannot be a party that strips working Americans of the right to a secret-ballot election. We are the party that has always defended the rights of the working class. To fail to ensure the right to vote free of intimidation and coercion from all sides would be a betrayal of what we have always championed.
And it was all bullshit.
As Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Budget Priorities, explained to me in an email, "If anyone is really that hung up on the 'secret ballot' crap then they should be asked why they aren't upset by the fact that current law allows unions to be decertified by card check. The only change with the Employee Free Choice Act is whether card check recognition is at the discretion of the employer of the worker. In other words, it changes absolutely ZERO about whether the right of workers to organize is determined by secret ballot or not. The only thing it changes is who gets to decide the manner of certification, workers or employers."
Anyone who was disappointed in McGovern for this doesn't know him. It was, unfortunately, entirely in character.
McGovern, which I suspect a whole lot of people don't realize, is and always has been as schizophrenic as his state. South Dakota is half rabid Republican cattleman and half Minnesota-style populist/liberal farmers and it's split right down the middle - geographically as well as politically. In the East on the Minnesota border are the Democratic farmers and the capital, Pierre (pronounced "peer", if you don't mind). Also most of the population. In the much more sparsely populated West are the ranchers, mesa-rock-ribbed Republicans so conservative they'd make Pat Buchanan look sane by comparison. When western South Dakotan Pubs talk about having a hunting season for Democrats, it's NOT a joke.
McGovern was elected Senator by the eastern, populist half of the state but he has always harbored serious conservative instincts that he rarely indulged himself in. One of them was his distaste for unions, a western SD mania/paranoia. He managed to keep this under control (and under the radar) until, as Perlstein says, George Meany took the AFL-CIO to Nixon, a move I personally never have and never will forgive him for.
It's one of the subplots of NIXONLAND: the bright-eyed anti-war reform Demorats who formed the core of McGovern's movement became locked in a civil war with the old-line union leaders who were as uncomfortable with reform as they were comfortable with the Vietnam War. It got ugly. Long story short: AFL-CIO president George Meany, who chose to remain neutral in the 1972 presidential election but who obviously favored Richard Nixon, got the last word. At a Steelworkers convention in September, he explained that the "Democratic Party has been taken over by people named Jack who look like Jills and smell like Johns."
He more than "obviously favored" Nixon. Meany had sub rosa groups of "hard-hat brigades" working the phones for Nixon and getting out the vote in a couple of dozen key states. In the union itself, it was an open secret, and - again speaking personally - the beginning of the end of my relationship with Labor for many years and the absolute end of my relationship with the AFL-CIO.
But as bloody as that betrayal was, the truth is that McGovern was never all that comfortable around union types and I think it was the farmer in him. Farmers were solitary men, men who worked constantly and lived by the vagaries of the marketplace, up one year, destitute the next. To them - and therefore to him, McGovern - there was always something vaguely evil, vaguely, well, city-ish, a SD epithet of no mean power, about union men banding together for the year-to-year security that farmers had learned to look down on. Many years later, when I was trying to organize farm workers in the West the way they were everywhere else, I ran into a good deal of that spite.
Not that farmers as a group disliked unions. Like McGovern himself, they thought the idea was alright but that when union leaders asked for raises more than once a decade they were getting above themselves a wee bit. A radio interviewer once asked a Rapid City newspaper reporter of a certain vintage why George McGovern hadn't carried his own state. The reporter replied that the farmers of SD sent him to Washington because he knew everything about farm policy. But that when he ran for president they thought he had "gone Hollywood".
The interviewer was obviously surprised by the answer. What did the reporter mean? Was McGovern seen prancing down a Pierre street with a bimbette on each arm and gold chains around his neck?
No, said the reporter, but he ran for president. He was getting above himself, asking for more than he should want, and they thought he needed to be taken down a peg.
Remember, Mark, they're Lutherans.
None of which completely explains McGovern's right-wing TP's. I mean, in the old days he might not care for unions someplace deep in his soul but he would never have parroted conservative propaganda word-for-word and shamelessly attach his liberal credentials to it...unless....
Glorioski, Mr Holmes! Could it be there's a...DLC-er in the woodpile? Why, YES! And it's our old buddy Al F.
It's safe to say George McGovern is a patsy for anti-union lobbyist Rick Berman, the leader of a $30 million front group interfering in key Senate and House races this cycle.
McGovern sits on the board of FirstJobs, another pro-business Berman front group, alongside the likes of Bush Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens, the editorial page director of the Washington Times, and the head of Sam's Club.
Actually, I find the most telling of McGovern's fellow board members to be Al From. I would if From regales McGovern at board meetings with his conviction that McGovern turned the Democratic parter into a monstrous aggregation "defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist, interest-group liberalism at home." One of the FDL commenters asked, "How old is he now? Seriously...is age-related stuff a factor here?" That's not quite it. The fact is, George McGovern is one of those Democrats who, along with Al From, has never had much use for the AFL-CIO.
More proof if you needed it that DLC poison has contaminated even the best in the Democratic party.