Bob Franken: Labor Day pains

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, August 30, 2014 12:58pm
  • Opinion

Did you know that the federal Labor Day holiday was established by President Grover Cleveland in 1894 to celebrate American workers? As you might imagine, it was championed by the unions. Second question: Do you care? Given that organized labor has shrunk from 30 percent of the workforce in 1958 to about 11 percent now, and that even the unions, which represent 35 percent of public-sector employees, are being successfully challenged by conservatives, perhaps it should be a day for them to mourn instead of celebrate. That erosion would help explain why incomes of America’s richest people in 2012 rose nearly 20 percent and everyone else saw just a 1 percent increase. So much for the American expectation of upward mobility.

In truth, most of us don’t ponder any of that. It’s an extra day off to mark the unofficial end of summer with picnics, beach time or, yes, shopping, at stores whose salespeople usually are underpaid.

It’s also designated the beginning of the campaign silly season, which might seem a tad dopey given how, these days, the campaign never really seems to end. But now we begin the two-month-plus sprint to the midterms, where we get to decide, among other things, whether the Republicans will take over the entire Congress and make President Barack Obama’s remaining term even more torturous for him. It might get so bad that he’ll just retreat to the nearest golf course as the debris from the domestic and geopolitical earthquakes crash all around the White House.

As I said, the election cycle is nonstop. As vital as the congressional races are, to say nothing of all the statewide contests, they are widely regarded as only the preliminaries (except by the congressional and state candidates). Most of the chatter is about the impact the 2014 results will have on the 2016 big megillah. That’s when Hillary runs against some Republican and works very hard to convince everyone that even though she’s the Democrat, she’s no Barack Obama. What will help immensely is that she will have little trouble also differentiating herself from a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul or whoever survives the mud wrestle of the Tea Party, uh, Republican Party primaries.

Actually, what should help her is indeed having Republicans fully in charge on Capitol Hill. Look how they’ve managed to disgrace themselves when they’ve only had a majority in the House of Representatives. Of course, one could argue that it hasn’t really been a majority, instead a grouping of the right wing and further right extremists throwing temper tantrums that have effectively shut down the House and sometimes the whole government. About all they’ve managed to do is repeatedly vote to repeal Obamacare, and antagonize about 90 percent of the country.

Funny, though, even with polls show their approval ratings in the toilet, they still are a lock on getting re-elected. Chances are they’ll take all the marbles this year and show how they’ve lost all their marbles as they turn House and Senate into a two-ring circus. If I were Hillary and the Democrats focused on maintaining control of the White House, I’d be working very hard behind the scenes to make sure the GOP has the chance to be in full display in both chambers. Let the Republicans run against themselves.

Of course, that puts our country at risk. Certainly the disarray in the United States gives confidence to the nutcases on the world stage, who are acting out their religious fantasies and pursuing their brutal ambitions. It’s easy for them to believe America is nothing to fear, less of a shining example.

Even at home, our economic well-being is under assault, with many conservative hard-liners already promising to throw the U.S. into government default if they don’t get their way. So enjoy the Labor Day break. It’s about to start getting ugly. Even uglier.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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