April 16, 2004

Union Days Discusses Labor, Politics

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As a part of the annual Union Days program sponsored by the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, three panelists discussed “Labor and Politics in 2004” before a mixed crowd of students, faculty and alumni yesterday afternoon in the Doherty Lounge in Ives Hall.

The panelists represented three viewpoints on labor and politics. Bob Muehlenkamp, senior labor advisor for the Howard Dean campaign, spoke about his experiences on the campaign trail; Prof. Adolph Reed, political science, The New School, spoke from his experience as a professor and historian and Rick Perlstein, chief national political correspondent for the Village Voice, spoke from his experiences as a political journalist.

Muehlenkamp spoke first, outlining his political career with the Dinkins and Clinton campaigns and then described his involvement with the Dean campaign.

“I wanted to make sure that the labor movement did not end up on the wrong side of the issue this time,” he said, speaking about the war in Iraq and his reasons for wanting to work on the Dean campaign.

He said that Dick Gephardt was the favorite to win the AFL-CIO endorsement in the Democratic primary, and that his job was to make sure that did not happen. In the end, Gephardt only received the support of one-third of the labor movement, and Dean had the endorsement of four major unions.

Muehlenkamp also told the crowd the reasons that he believed that Dean fell out of favor with voters.

He said that the negative campaigning between Dean and Gephardt “tore them apart” leaving room for other candidates to rise. He said that he thought that other candidates ganged up on Dean and that the “press decapitated his candidate.”

In addition, he believes that Dean made many of his own mistakes, saying that “[the campaign advisors] could not keep up with the major gaffes.”

In closing his segment, he said that the labor movement is running an aggressive campaign against President George W. Bush.

“Twenty-six percent of votes cast in 2000 were from union families,” he said, “and 65 percent of them voted Democrat.” He added that the Democratic party has to concentrate on the persuadable votes.

“Only nine states actually count in this election, and 45 percent of each of those states is on one side, and 45 percent is on the other side. So only nine percent of the votes in this country are actually up for grabs: that’s what its all about,” he said. “This will be the most polarized election since the civil war.”

Reed began his portion of the discussion by saying that “this is the most dangerous administration that has been in the White House in [his] lifetime.”

He said that Dean was “in a position to be vocal against the war that congressional Democrats couldn’t be in because they all voted for it in some way.” Adding that Dean enabled the country to have a different kind of debate.

Reed spoke about the “deepening crisis involving the increasing costs of higher education in America.”

He said that although most of the candidates had higher education plans, most were “convoluted.”

He closed his portion of the discussion with his views on the 2004 presidential election, saying that the Republicans are going to run on the “gay marriage platform.”

“They’re going to say that gay marriage is a blight in the eyes of God, man and the Easter Bunny,” he said.

Perlstein, the final speaker, spoke about his experience as a political journalist. Although he covers national politics, he “stays as far away from [the campaign reporters] as possible.”

He compared Dean to a bee, saying that his campaign “stung the Democratic Party before it died,” explaining the new life that he brought to the party.

In his travels covering the political scene, Perlstein said that he went to political rallies and fundraisers. He spoke about a Lieberman fundraiser in particular.

“The Lieberman campaign is what happens to a party when it doesn’t want to win, but it wants not to lose,” he said, saying that Lieberman was trying to act conservative in an attempt to gain the moderate vote.

Perlstein went on a road trip through Illinois asking people who they plan to vote for in the upcoming election. He found that many of the people who voted for Bush in the 2000 election are now changing their allegiance based on employment and economic issues.

He also spoke about white-collar outsourcing, the movement of white-collar jobs overseas, saying that he saw someone with a t-shirt that read “I lost my job to India and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”

“Efficiency cannot be the only value in the economy, you have to have equity,” he said.

He closed saying that, “the Democrats may be able to win the next election, but will they be able to win an election 14, 16 years from now? I don’t know.”

After their statements, the floor was opened for questions from the audience.

The first audience member asked who the panelists believed would be the Democratic nominee for vice-president. None of the candidates would garner a response, saying that they did not want to predict the outcome at this point.

Another member of the audience asked about the panelists feelings about Ralph Nader and his effect on the upcoming election.

Muehlenkamp said that he is working to “help Nader make a contribution without having to run.”

He added that, “Nader wont drop out of the election.”

Perlsteino said that in order for the Democratic party to be successful, they have to “have ambitious, grand ideas that need hard work to implement over several election cycles.”

Archived article by Eric Finkelstein
Sun News Editor