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We’ll all need to buckle up in preparation for some dramatic and historical confrontations in the coming weeks. No, we’re not talking about college basketball’s “March Madness” (Go UCLA!) We’re talking about the confirmation hearings of Thomas Perez, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Labor. By all accounts, the Republicans plan to use a full-court press to kill his nomination.
So why is the Republican Party opposed to Perez’s appointment? Basically, it boils down to two reasons: (1) Because Perez is unabashedly pro-worker, pro-union, pro-immigrant, and pro-civil rights; and (2) because Obama nominated him.
As to the first reason, Perez’s record as head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (since 2009) is going to raise some concerns. Among other things, while at the DOJ, Perez (the Harvard-educated son of Dominican Republic immigrants) fought against unfair mortgage lending, supported the working rights of the nation’s veterans (many of whom are minorities), and went after bad cops and discriminatory immigration practices with a vengeance.
According to those who know him best, Perez rejoices in fighting for people who don’t have the resources to fight for themselves. Going to bat for the underdog is both noble and commendable—in many ways, a uniquely American endeavor. While most of us would consider such a person a “humanitarian,” many Republican senators consider such a person a “trouble-maker.” And yet, with a straight face, they continue to refer to liberals as “elitists.” Go figure.
Their second reason is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s initial reluctance to sign a treaty with the USSR. Reagan feared that any agreement the Soviets “liked” had to be one that was bad for America. And the same goes for the president’s nominee: If Obama likes somebody, there must be something wrong with him. In truth, this knee-jerk opposition transcends ideology. Senate Republicans will try to torpedo Obama’s nominees just to mess with him. Recall Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense.
Even though Hagel was a former Republican senator himself, as well as a decorated combat vet, John McCain and Lindsay Graham used the hearings to brutally attack him and embarrass the president. Their beef? Hagel had previously criticized the Iraq “surge” tactic, and had implied that the Israeli lobby was powerful. McCain and Graham’s naked hypocrisy was insufferable. If there were any justice in the world, the master-at-arms would’ve grabbed a bullwhip and publicly flogged both men.
No one can say whether or not Perez will be confirmed, but one thing is certain: He will not be candid. Perez will not risk further alienating the opposition by expressing his true feelings about labor unions. He will not praise organized labor’s role in U.S. history, he will not lament the sharp decline in union membership (now at a pitiful 11.3-percent), and he will not draw attention to the obvious correlation between union membership and a healthy middle-class.
In order to avoid being “Borked,” Perez will adopt the “Souter” defense. He will go intellectually limp. He will give a whole new meaning to the term “vague.” He will speak in generalities so broad and vacuous, no one will have a clue what he’s talking about, and when confronted with a direct and unavoidably controversial question, observers will fear he’s lapsed into a fugue-like state.
We’d all like to believe that Perez will take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to publicly defend the American labor movement, and issue a resounding and bitter indictment of the anti-labor forces attempting to undermine it, but that’s not going to happen. With circumspection the order of the day, organized labor will miss yet another opportunity to have its case presented by someone who knows what he’s talking about.
David Macaray, CounterPunch’s labor correspondent, is a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd Edition). He was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at email@example.com