- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 26, 2010


A reasonable argument can be made that the Obama administration folks misinterpreted the 2008 elections results, taking them as a mandate for sweeping societal change when in fact they largely reflected a revolt against Bush-Cheney incompetence reflected in the mishandling of Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the economy.

We all know the consequences: An outcry that change has been forced on a skeptical public while the problems people cared about — the economy and jobs — got short shrift. And, there is the likelihood of substantial Republican congressional gains in next week’s election.

But now, it seems the GOP may be about to repeat that history of reading election results not in a careful manner but rather seeing what is required to advance an agenda. Just as they allege the left did, conservatives appear ready to superimpose their ideological wish list over the election results and miraculously find a perfect fit.

Listen to the lions of the right and you won’t hear that people are voting for jobs or to protect their living standards. No, they’re voting for a “constitutional” government that will slash spending (other than the military), get out of the way (except for enforcing morality) and allow the vacuum to be filled with unbridled corporate power.

Now, how do I know that talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin — who have done more to bring Republicans to the brink of power than leaders on Capitol Hill — are misinterpreting the will of the people? That Americans don’t in fact seek a shrinking and enfeebled federal government and a shift to Adam Smith-like ideological purity? That what they actually want is an effective government consisting of grown-ups who solve problems instead of squabbling?

I could drag out some polls or quote some political scientists, but this is an intelligent audience and you know that numbers and quotes can be found to support any position. So I’m going to turn to something more concrete — the American reaction to the plight of the 33 Chilean miners.

The mid-October rescue of these workers, who had been trapped underground for more than two months, inspired a rare celebratory outburst in this country. Electronic media outlets put everything else aside as the rescue attempt unfolded. Millions of Americans were riveted (joined by 1 billion viewers around the world.) Some in Washington gathered at the Chilean Embassy in a gesture of support, exploding in joy when the miners emerged.

In New York, a woman spoke of how four decades ago the world watched men walk on the moon, and added, “Today we are seeing men come out from the earth. It’s equally striking.”

I would submit that the public’s reaction stems from more than the fact that this was a dash of uplifting news in a rather dismal news environment. In fact, I would make it Exhibit One in the case against the notion that an anti-government fervor is sweeping our land. In fact, some rather populist — dare I say liberal — themes were central to this story.

1) Relief that government worked. The outcome stemmed in no small measure from decisive and effective action by competent public officials. Various players helped, from the private sector, from other countries, but the activities were planned and orchestrated by Chilean leaders, starting with the president. No one called for government to stay on the sidelines, or wished out loud that federal authorities had previously been starved of authority and resources. A strong, creative and engaged national government willing to act boldly — and unwilling to see these workers as disposable — was indispensable to pulling this off.

2) International cooperation. The global community, so often disparaged by the same forces critical of our federal government, rose to the challenge. Americans were instrumental but didn’t seek the spotlight; nations generally focused on the outcome, not the credit. And, this story was a reminder that all talent and know-how do not reside in our 50 states.

3) Working-class stiffs get a break. The people at the center of this story were blue-collar workers, miners to boot — who symbolize a grit, fearlessness, discipline and collective spirit that not only helped them get through the ordeal but did so in ways that preserved their dignity. Solidarity lives, and as a result, so did these men.

Philip Dine, author of “State of the Unions: How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve Our Economy, and Regain Political Influence,” is a Washington-based journalist and a frequent speaker on labor issues.

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