What’s More Meaningless Than a Speech? A Union Endorsement

Norman Mailer once pointed out something that was already painfully obvious to most people. He said that no politician (and he included himself in that general category when he ran for mayor of New York City, in 1969) is going to utter a single word that he or she isn’t convinced will attract votes. It’s axiomatic. No aspiring office seeker is going to intentionally say something that will lose them votes.

So when Donald Trump said that he favored single-payer health insurance, that he disapproved of the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling, that he abhors our recent trade agreements, that he was opposed to the Iraq War, and that he favors raising taxes on the wealthy, we can assume he isn’t channeling Noam Chomsky so much as he’s talking out of his butt, trolling for votes.

And he is doing the exact same thing when he vows to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, when he suggests we should “segregate” or “quarantine” Muslims, and when he promises to “fix” the Chinese (Huh?) Although he is aiming those statements at an entirely different demographic, they were nonetheless designed to attract votes, just as every other comment was.

But if political speeches are no more credible than TV commercials for laundry detergent—indeed, if talk is cheap, and highfalutin, idealistic platitudes are even cheaper—then what are we pilgrims supposed to use as a basis for voting for a candidate?

Basically, all we have to go on is a candidate’s history. A candidate’s character, deeds, and voting record. Which was the basis of my voting for Ralph Nader, in 2000. It wasn’t Nader’s rhetoric that swayed me (he promised to repeal the Taft-Hartley Act, which, as tantalizing as it sounded, was pie-in-the-sky bullshit), and it wasn’t his record as a public servant because he never held office. Rather, it was Nader’s sterling character and life-long philosophy.

Which, tangentially, seems to be why Hillary Clinton remains unpopular with some hardcore Democrats. Unfortunately, her personal history seems to indicated that she is predisposed to military action, and way too accommodating to Wall Street. Speeches won’t help her. Compared to the currency of past deeds and actions, “pretty words” are worthless.

Yet one can argue that there is something even “less meaningful” than political rhetoric, and that is endorsements by labor unions. Which is to say, if Bernie Sanders honestly believed that gaining support of the CWA’s (Communication Workers of America) executive board was going to result in hundreds of thousands of CWA union members voting for him, he was deluding himself.

Union endorsements carry about as much weight as being someone’s “friend” on Facebook. People who dig Hillary will continue to dig her even if she crosses some horrid imaginary line, and conversely, people who despise her will continue to despise her even if she appeared to undergo a genuine epiphany. As for organized labor’s “seal of approval,” forget about it. It’s not going to matter.

As for Clinton’s stable of unions, she has lined up an impressive array of big-time players, including the SEIU, AFSCME, the ILA, both national teachers groups (NEA and AFT), along with dozens of others. While Bernie was able to nab the CWA, as well as postal workers, transit workers, nurses, and west coast longshoremen (ILWU), he didn’t come close to matching Hillary.

Still, none of this is going to matter because very few working men and women are going to vote for a candidate simply because their parent union tells them to. People are simply too ornery and independent to do what their nominal “leaders” tell them to do, which, in truth, is fairly commendable.

And of course, we’re talking solely of Democrats here, as precious few Republican presidential candidates have gotten union support. The Teamsters disgraced themselves by endorsing Nixon in 1972, and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Oddly, Donald Trump has actually gotten a union endorsement. Can anyone guess? It’s the National Border Patrol union. How sweet is that?

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David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

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