Catch the Busmen
Before I begin pontificating, I want to hip you to a fun Big Talk airing this afternoon at 5:30. I was joined Tuesday in the studio by Addison & Lewis Rogers, the brothers who make mirth and music under the sobriquet, Busman’s Holiday.
Dang, I hardly had to edit the raw recording because we three got on so well and made for such a compelling gabfest. In fact, we went on and on so long that I decided to turn the interview into a two-parter. Part one airs today on WFHB, 91.3 FM, with Part two slated for next Thursday, March 19th.
And, for goodness sake, throw some money down and cop some of the boy’s music. You’ll thank me.
The Owls Vs. The Workers
Let’s talk about the people on my side of the fence. Call us what you will (liberals, the Left, bleeding hearts, tree huggers, socialists, commies, queers, perverts, weaklings, losers, et cetera — I prefer to think of us as one great big unhappy family), the truth is you can’t call us the voice of the working person anymore. Much of it has to do with the Reagan Right’s clever strategy of crushing labor unions starting some 50 years ago. Labor was the Democratic Party’s biggest financial benefactor up until the 1980s. Reagan and his allies recognized it and for that reason (among others) stood on their heads to demonize and then break up unions. W/o their biggest sugar daddies, the Dems had to begin cozying up to Wall Street and the corporate world for their financing, changing the philosophical and practical positioning of the party.
But that’s not the only reason the Democrats and the Left lost the working class. It also was the fact that we stopped listening to people who were afraid of losing their jobs. We had much more important things to consider than your financial well-being, you fools. Chief among them was the environment. Let’s take as an example the Northern Spotted Owl wars.
Northern California was one of the primary homes of said raptor. Environmentalists and their celebrity spokespeople in movies and pop music were aghast that continued logging in N. Cal. forests was on a trajectory to essentially destroy much of the natural habitat of Strix occidentalis caurina, as well they should have been. Northern spotted owls are particularly sensitive to adverse changes to their habitats. The logging industry up and down the northwest Pacific coast in the post-war era was clear-cutting woodlands at an alarming rate. The number of spotted owl pairs in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California plummeted concurrently. The dramatic decline in the population of the owls moved environmental activists to take the creature’s cause up in a big way. In 1973, responding to pressure, the US Dept. of the Interior put the bird on its Endangered Species list. All good so far.
Nevertheless, by 1990 the US Fish and Wildlife Service declared the owl a threatened species. By that time, the protectors of the spotted owl had added legal remedies to their public relations campaign in an effort to save the owls (in fact, that very line, Save the Owls, became a popular bumper sticker not only on the northwest coast but around the nation). Lawyers for environmentalists went to federal court to get the government to curtail logging by private companies in the affected areas. The companies responded that the curtailment would hurt their business and so the fight became one of hardy, noble, nature lovers battling against greedy, monolithic corporate overlords. And because the overwhelming majority of Democrats at the time loved the environment and was justifiably suspicious of big corporations, why, there was nothing more needed to be said about the issue.
They were wrong. The number of working class people who lived in the northern spotted owls’ territories and whose livelihood depended upon the logging industry numbered into the hundreds of thousands. Many of those people might well have had concern for the birds but of more pressing urgency was the fact that they might be losing their jobs. Whole towns grew up around logging centers. Grocers, movie theaters, work clothes outlets, doctors, lawyers, cab companies, hardware stores, restaurants, and any number of other businesses concurrently grew up around those towns, serving people whose money came from logging. The operators of those businesses, too, began quaking in their boots.
Logging industry flacks warned that tens of thousands of people would lose their jobs if clear-cutting were to be curtailed there. The US Forest Service estimated some 30,000 people would be put out of work should clear-cutting in the affected habitats be slashed.
There were tons of reports and estimates that disputed these figures — primarily the fact that mechanization already had reduced the number of logging jobs by up to 90 percent since the end of World War II — but I’m not interested in arguing that point further here. Perception creates its own reality and as long as those hundreds of thousands of logging workers were scared to death their jobs might be in jeopardy, they needed to be heeded by the then-putative party of the working people.
But no, the environmentalists — and by extension, the entire Democratic Party — gave the big finger to them. By god, we gasped, how can you prioritize your paycheck over the loss of a species? What kind of a heartless, greedy bastard are you?
All we had to do was listen to those terrified people. Listen to their concerns. Take them into consideration. Try to allay their fears. Work with them. Compromise. Uh-uh. We ignored them, sending them running into the arms of the big business, anti-environment Right. They no longer felt at home in the Democratic Party.
That same scenario is playing out today. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people work in the private health care delivery system. More than half a million Americans alone work in health insurance administration. They tend to believe — rightly or wrongly (it doesn’t matter) — that Medicare for All or single payer, universal health care will put them out of work. And then there are the millions of people who are reasonably happy with their employer-based health care coverage. Again, rightly or wrongly (and, again, it doesn’t matter) they’re afraid they’ll be shunted off to some doctor or hospital that they don’t want.
Are we listening? Of course not! We’re saying, once again, fuck them. And when a preeminent charlatan like President Gag tells them, hell no, there’ll never be Medicare for All, he becomes mightily attractive to them.
It’s so simple: All we have to do is listen. All we have to do is let people know we care about their fears and concerns. All we have to do is sit down and craft some kind of bargain with them. But no. Better to tell them to fuck off because, for god’s sake, we’re in the right!