FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Behind the Political Curtain

by DAVID MACARAY

Philip Levine has just been named the new U.S. Poet Laureate.  How should we interpret that?  Did President Obama, who’s been a profound disappointment to organized labor, believe he could partially redeem himself in labor’s eyes by naming Levine, long celebrated as America’s “working class poet” (Levine once belonged to the UAW and worked in Detroit’s auto plants) to the prestigious post?

No one’s suggesting that move this rises to the level of a national security concern or is part of a sinister conspiracy cloaked in intrigue, but it is fair to ask if old-fashioned “identity” politics played a part in it.  Alas, even to the non-cynical, the appointment wreaks of calculation.

For the record, it’s not the president who appoints the Poet Laureate; technically, it’s the Library of Congress.  Still, a hands-on, media-hip president is going to be calling the shots.  Nor is this accusation in any way meant to demean the character or body of work of Philip Levine.  Indeed, if anyone deserves being named to the post, it is he.  I’ve read Levine’s verse for years, and have always admired him.  His “What Work Is” is one of my favorite poems.

Unless we’re badly misreading this, the motivation behind the appointment seems clear.  A president doesn’t do anything without a plan.  He doesn’t give a speech, return a phone call, visit a city, or answer a policy question without a full work-up and without his advisors’ approval.  There is precious little spontaneity in the Oval Office.  Accordingly, there’s no way Obama is going to let the Poet Laureate position go to some pilgrim who can’t help him in any way, even if it is only symbolically.

Let’s not forget that this is the same savvy, image-minded president whomade a splashy public display of inviting key Republican leaders to the White House in February, 2009, to watch the Super Bowl with him, believing that this generous display of camaraderie and fraternalism would usher in a new era of bipartisan cooperation.  (So how’d that work out for you, Mr. President?)

As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has repeatedly noted, if President Obama truly wanted to get labor in his corner and keep it there, he would go on television and talk about nothing except jobs—creating jobs, maintaining jobs, expanding jobs.  Jobs are the one thing working people genuinely care about.  If the president truly wanted to reach the average American, he would have made his message personal and direct.

But instead of making it personal and direct, he chose to make it abstract and fuzzy.  Instead of dominating the conversation with talk of jobs, jobs and more jobs, Obama has allowed the Republicans to seize control and shift the national conversation to the topic of deficit reduction, something about which most of us know little and care even less.

If Obama honestly believes he can kiss up to the unions—that he can get organized labor to embrace him after all the betrayals, sleights of hand, and false promises—by elevating an acknowledged “working class” figure to Poet Laureate, he’s even more out of touch than anyone previously thought.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”. He served 9 terms as president of AWPPW Local 672. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail