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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Who that boy think he is? The President?

Back in Illinois over Labor Weekend to visit my brother, I had two things happen that brought back some times in life when things were moving in a different direction than they are at the present time.

The morning paper, one that I worked for, carried the obituary of my boss on that paper.  Jack Sundine, co-owner and editor, died on Friday. He was a complicated man, and we had our ins-and-outs, but I was not singular among his editors in that respect.  Jack made the Moline Dispatch one of the most powerful newspapers in Illinois outside of Chicago.  An ostensible Republican, he was often invited on a television talk show with the Democratic state's attorney (who later became a state supreme court justice) to analyze issues of the day.  Jack was in many respects to the left of the Democratic state's attorney.  He opposed the death penalty for reasons that became manifest 40 years later when 13 men on Illinois death row were released from prison when DNA evidence proved their innocence.  He was a staunch supporter of civil rights, and he backed up his verbal stance with action.  He worked behind the scenes to see talented African-Americans put into positions they deserved, find housing commensurate with their positions in previously all-white neighborhoods, and he supported his editors and reporters when they ran across stories that were not necessarily complementary to business and political leaders.  However, he detested tabloid journalism, and any stories published in his paper had to have airtight documentation.   

I have often said, much to the consternation of university colleagues, that my job on the Dispatch was the best one I ever had.  The reason was mostly that any rivalries among the talent on that paper were subordinated to turning out a good newspaper.  When it came to the journalism, we worked together.  That is why the newspaper was a downstate force in Illinois.  It held to a standard of journalism and thorough and fair coverage that I have not witnessed since.

Toward the end of my time at the newspaper, six of us editors advertised in Editor and Publisher that we were available for hire elsewhere.  The reason was that word got out that Jack and his co-owners were getting ready to sell the newspaper, and we didn't think that any new owners would let the newspaper continue as a strong, independent voice.  It turns out we were right.  

But something else was going on in the Quad-Cities over Labor Day.  I do not recall seeing a Labor Day parade since I was a child. But the Quad-Cities, once the place where most of the farm equipment was manufactured, was gearing up for parades in the various communities.  In fact, as I drove out Monday morning, I had to take detours around blocked-off streets to find my way to the Interstate.  Labor is on the move again, in a very political way.

Among the other things revealed over the weekend was that the approval rating for Obama and the direction of the country is plummeting.  The flagging job market is causing many people to lost confidence in the way he is handling things, but that disaffection reflected in the polls has quite a different aspect for some people.  An African-American community  and union organizer explained this when asked if he was anxious to see Obama's speech on jobs.  He said he wasn't going to watch it:  "I don't need to see that man niggered one more time," he said.  For those who are not familiar with the definitions of that term, he was using it to mean someone being treated with the disrespect and discourtesy that segregated America once treated black America.  He said that John Boehner flaunted this kind of treatment against Obama:  one time during the debt talks when he did not give Obama the courtesy of a telephone call to tell him he was walking out on the talks; and the next time when he rejected Obama's request for a joint session of Congress for the presentation of his proposals on jobs.  Boehner made sure that his rebuff of the President got full public play.  

The man said that Obama has worked on the premise of eliminating partisan gridlock and trying to work with the opposition, but that effort has gone past any reasonable courtesies.  Now Obama's efforts look like he, in the man's words, "is Uncle Tomming Congress."  "All he is going to do with the speech," said the  man, "is create an opportunity for the plantation owners to put that nigger in his place one more time.  They can't disagree or deal with him with any respect.  And Obama thinks he is rising above it all by not calling them out."  Race problems have always been with us in subtle ways, but they have surged with public demonstrations of niggering, the man commented.

The polls that show declining support for Obama show a great contempt for Congress, with an approval rating of 12 percent.  That contempt is apparent among the working people and those who would like to be working,  One union man pointed more directly at the Republicans, as he extended the remarks of the community and union organizer.  The one thing Republicans have done is make disrespect and contempt for others something that crosses the color line.  If you are in the working middle class, you are an offense to the Republicans.  He said the insults and accusations of greed and avarice that Gov. Walker of Wisconsin directed toward union members was sheer hate propaganda.

The community-union organizer was asked who he would vote for if he was not nappy with Obama.  'The last election was fool's play," he said," and there are no choices. There are other things to do beside vote.  Remember what a general strike is?  We can  bring this sorry government to its knees like we did with corporations years ago.  This is a fight between workers and plantation owners, and it's time to get rid of the plantation system."

Then the Labor Day parade started to move through the streets. 


caheidelberger said...

David, what is the "general strike" we can wage to bring government to its knees?

David Newquist said...


I think the man was referring to secondary boycotts in which workers strike in sympathy with others to stop nearly all commerce. I do not personally recall such a strike, but vaguely recall times when one was threatened and resulted in the invocation of the Taft-Hartley Act, which triggers a court injunction against any strike that could jeopardize the well-being of the country.

I find those conversations I witnessed more significant for the attitudes expressed and what some people seem to be contemplating. I don't think the anti-labor forces have any idea of the opposition they are creating and what measures the disenfranchised workers are considering. My sense of it is that people really are giving up on politics as the way to exert their voices.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States