MEMO FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES ET AL

Rudy Giuliani: not a moderate:

“It’s a no-risk society,” Giuliani went on. “If we continue with this idea of collective responsibility, we’ll become a society that deteriorates. And it’s a battle that has to be fought now.”

Even if he does seem to recognize a measure of collective responsibility for making it possible for poor women to make their own choice about abortion.

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ONE SIDE OF THE DEAL

An American worker who works at the current federal minimum wage – $5.15/ hour – for forty hours a week for fifty-two weeks, without interruption, would make $10,712.

The 2006 federal poverty line for the continental United States for a two-person family is $13,200 a year.

That means a family of one child and one parent who works full-time at the federal minimum wage is living at least $2,500 below the poverty line.

The reality faced by the working poor in America is somewhat different. People struggle to find consistent full-time work. People take multiple jobs adding up to well over forty hours without receiving the benefits of full-time work from any of them. People get sick.

A decade ago, conservatives in Congress – with a good many ostensible liberals in tow – inflicted a harsh revision of the American social contract, tearing away the safety net from those who utilized its support for more than three or five years of their lives – even if they were using that time to gain the skills for a better shot at living-wage work. Under the regime of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, the uncompromising message sent to every low-income woman and man in this country by our congress is that your first and immediate responsibility is to find a way into the minimum-wage workforce.

But the same leaders who have most loudly pushed that message on marginalized Americans have fought fiercely against either requiring that work pay by raising the minimum wage or facilitating workers’ freedom to demand that work pay by protecting their organizing rights.

This week, some of them floated an insulting proposal – intended to fail – which would ease the minimum wage higher for some workers while both leaving tipped workers out to dry and depleting the federal government’s resources for empowering working Americans by lavishing cash on this country’s wealthiest families.

We deserve better.

JOBS AND FREEDOM

Martin Luther King called for a guaranteed minimum standard of living for all Americans; a generation later, our political leaders have presided over a bipartisan retreat from this country’s social contract with its most vulnerable citizens. King called for a broad-based movement against bigotry, militarism, and economic injustice; a generation later, the left remains beset by the divisions he worked to overcome, and by the ones he himself failed to critically engage. King called for an audacious, visionary struggle to win the seemingly unachievable; a generation later, we spend much of our energy working to protect what’s been won against further erosion. There was a time when the FBI called King the most dangerous Negro in America. It’s time King was dangerous again.

This article by David Sirota has been the subject of spirited criticism over its portrayal of the Democratic Leadership Council’s positions on various issues. As far as I’m concerned, if the argument of the DLC’s defenders is that it’s actually more liberal than we give it credit for, great. Would’ve been nice if they’d come around before incubating Clinton’s erosion of the social contract, but better late than never. But as much as many of us enjoy taking shots at the DLC, and they enjoy taking shots at us, there’s a more salient point to be made in Sirota’s piece: the median American voter is much further left on economic policy than Democrats seem to give him/her credit for:

Yet almost every major poll shows Americans already essentially believe Republicans are waging a class war on behalf of the rich–they are simply waiting for a national party to give voice to the issue. In March 2004, for example, a Washington Post poll found a whopping 67 percent of Americans believe the Bush Administration favors large corporations over the middle class. The “centrists” tell Democrats not to hammer corporations for their misbehavior…A 2002 Washington Post poll taken during the height of the corporate accounting scandals found that 88 percent of Americans distrust corporate executives, 90 percent want new corporate regulations/tougher enforcement of existing laws and more than half think the Bush Administration is “not tough enough” in fighting corporate crime.

On taxes, self-described “centrists” like Senator Joe Lieberman, a senior DLC leader, attacked proposals to repeal the Bush tax cuts to pay down the deficit. Yet even the DLC’s pollster found in 2001 that a majority of Americans support such a policy, and that a strong plurality of voters would actually be more likely to vote for a Democrat who endorsed this proposal…a September 2004 CBS News poll found that 72 percent of Americans say they have either not been affected by the Bush tax cuts or that their taxes have actually gone up. On healthcare, we are led to believe that it is a “liberal,” “left” or “socialist” position to support a single-payer system that would provide universal coverage to all Americans. But if you believe the Washington Post, that would mean America was some sort of hippie commune. The newspaper’s 2003 national poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans say they prefer a universal healthcare system “that’s run by the government and financed by taxpayers” as opposed to the current private, for-profit system…On energy policy, those who want government to mandate higher fuel efficiency in cars are labeled “lefties,” even though a 2004 Consumers Union poll found that 81 percent of Americans support the policy…more than three-quarters of Michigan voters support it–including 84 percent of the state’s autoworkers. Even in the face of massive job loss and outsourcing, the media are still labeling corporate Democrats’ support for free trade as “centrist.”…Yet a January 2004 PIPA/University of Maryland poll found that “a majority [of the American public] is critical of US government trade policy.” A 1999 poll done on the five-year anniversary of the North American trade deal was even more telling: Only 24 percent of Americans said they wanted to “continue the NAFTA agreement.”

Tremendous turnout last night at the CORD (Community Organized for Responsible Development) convention. A real diverse group from across the city (although Yale administrators were noticably absent). And awesome energy. The co-chairs of each of the six issue committees, many of whom had no experience with community organizing as of this summer, each spoke powerfully to their issue and the larger struggle for a seat at the table with Yale – New Haven Hospital. The months of organizing – including 800 canvassing conversations – which went into building a platform as a community for a Community Benefits Agreement paid off powerfully last night, as it will continue to over the coming months. And the strength of that organizing was indicated as well by the presence of a majority of New Haven’s aldermen and state representatives, each of whom committed publically with hundreds of constituents bearing witness to stand with us in demanding that the Hospital’s growth take place with in a manner which grows opportunity and justice in the community as well. As Reverend Champagne preached last night, “We deserve jobs at that Hospital. And not only cleaning the floors, but sitting in offices as well.”

I’d say Edwards accomplished what he set out to do with his speech: he put forward a broad and attractive plan, shared a set of sympathetic values, and projected energy, confidence, and optimism. No big surprises, but I don’t think there were intended to be (there are all manner of big surprises I would’ve liked to see, generally falling into the category of John Edwards morphing into John Lewis). “Two Americas” works as a unifying theme, contrary to the grousing of the National Review crowd, because it speaks to a reality which most Americans intuitively recognize and implicitly sets forth an ideal most Americans are ready to work and sacrifice for. Glad to see Edwards at least intimating the connections between different forms of social, political, and economic equality in this country – in education, in healthcare, and such. And it was heartening to hear this graph:

We can also do something about 35 million Americans who live in poverty every day. And here’s why we shouldn’t just talk about but do something about the millions of Americans who live in poverty. Because it is wrong. And we have a moral responsibility to lift those families up. I mean the very idea that in a country of our wealth and our prosperity, we have children going to bed hungry. We have children who don’t have the clothes to keep them warm. We have millions of Americans who work full-time every day to support their families, working for minimum wage and still live in poverty. It’s wrong. These are men and women who are living up to their bargain. They’re working hard, they’re supporting their families. Their families are doing their part; it’s time we did our part.

And that’s what we’re going to do, that’s what we’re going to do when John is in the White House. Because we’re going to raise the minimum wage. We’re going to finish the job on welfare reform. And we’re going to bring good paying jobs to the places where we need them the most. . And by doing all those things we’re going to say no forever to any American working full-time and living in poverty. Not in our America, not in our America. Not in our America. Not in our America.

Obviously, it’s urgent to assert that the New Deal is something which creates a middle class, not something which saps it, and certainly anyone running for office in this country should speak to a strategy for expanding and securing the middle class. But that said, the ongoing invisibility of the American poor in Democratic party rhetoric of the past decade is disgraceful. It’s a tragic abdication of the responsibility of a real social contract. As Edwards reminded Kerry during the primary campaign, while Kerry was heading off voluntarily to war, Edwards was trying to figure out how to afford to go to college. And as Sharpton reminded Edwards, not everyone then – or now – could get a job as a mill worker. So the recognition of the plight and the promise of the working poor in the Vice Presidential acceptance speech is a step in the right direction, even if “finishing the job on welfare reform” sounds somewhat macabre. Let’s hear more about the working poor from Kerry tomorrow.

Hope is a winning theme. “Hope is on the way,” is a frustrating formulation though. Some of us who’ve had the pleasure of several rallies with the Rev. Jesse Jackson like to joke about the frequency with which the “Keep hope alive” slogan is repeated, but that’s fundamentally a good slogan because it offers an urgent, achievable imperative. “Hope is on the way” is inherently top down, and Edwards’ use of it – tell each of the beleaguered people you know that hope is on the way – reinforces the idea that the Kerry-Edwards ticket is some sort of superhero flying through the city saving victims. I’d like to hear less about hope being on the way and more about how we’re going to join together to take on the work of bringing it into being.