Middle Class Will Look for a Friend in Either Party

The best post-mortem on the 2006 election came from that perennial politician, Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.). He said, "People want to know who’s on their side. Whether it’s health care or wages or retirement issues, they want to have someone on their side."

The biggest electoral bloc of the "they" who are seeking friends is the middle class, which includes people variously labeled blue-collar workers, skilled workers or Reagan Democrats. They are the swing voters, often called the moveables.

President Ronald Reagan’s victories absolutely depended on their support. But Presidents Bush I and II kicked them away from the Republican Party, particularly on the issue of jobs.

Did the 2006 election teach Republicans that it is smart to be friends of the middle class? Have Republicans realized that jobs were second only to the unpopular war as the issue of 2006, and will surely be the No. 1 issue in 2008? George W. Bush carried Ohio in 2004 because the marriage amendment brought out the values voters. But Democrats can play that game, too: In 2006, the Ohio referendum on increasing the minimum wage raised the jobs issue, passed by 57%, and helped to bury Republican candidates.

Ohio has lost its manufacturing base. Some of the good jobs went to plants that were outsourced overseas and some disappeared in the tsunami of cheap Chinese goods as Wal-Mart replaced small businesses and left behind towns with empty streets and boarded-up windows.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Mike DeWine was badly defeated by Rep. Sherrod Brown (D.-Ohio), who had led the congressional fight against CAFTA and wrote a book called "The Myths of Free Trade" (New Press, $16). Brown’s TV ads showing him standing in front of a "plant closed" sign were powerful.

Almost every Republican member of Congress who bit the dust in the 2006 election had been an enthusiastic booster of the globalists’ agenda: North American Free Trade Agreement, Central American Free Trade Agreement, World Trade Organization, Fast Track, permanent normal trading relations and free trade agreements with countries most Americans never heard of. Republicans were badly on the defensive in the face of Democrat ads touting the issue of jobs.

The United States has lost more than 3 million manufacturing jobs since George W. Bush became president in 2000. The U.S. trade deficit hit a record high of $717 billion last year, and is expected to be even higher this year.

The middle class is not placated by feel-good talk that the stock market has climbed to a record high, or that unemployment is at a record low, or that the gross domestic product is growing. Unemployment statistics don’t count the guys who lost $50,000 jobs in manufacturing and are now working $25,000 jobs in retail, but job-growth figures happily do count the wives who have been involuntarily forced into the labor force just to keep groceries on the table.

The middle class is not placated by glib slogans that free trade is good for the economy and that protectionism is a nasty word. Common sense tells them that there is no such thing as a free lunch and, yes indeed, they do expect friends in government and industry to protect U.S. jobs against unfair competition from foreigners who work for 30 cents an hour.

Americans relish competition, as our national fixation on sports contests proves every day. But the globalists have destroyed a level playing field and, in addition, have subordinated us to an umpire (aka the World Trade Organization) that is biased against us.

Globalist policies have encouraged U.S. employers to use near-slave labor in Asia, whose products are then guaranteed duty-free or low-tariff re-entry to the United States. Those products are then sold here for prices that are cheap by U.S. standards but are marked up as much as 80%.

Globalist policies also allow discrimination against U.S. manufacturers by the Value Added Tax racket, whereby foreign governments subsidize their products both coming and going. For example, German automobiles cost 16% less in the United States than the same car sold in Germany, and U.S. automobiles cost 16% more in Germany than the same car bought in the United States.

House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) plans to shift the dialogue on Capitol Hill to worker’s pay, college tuition, health care costs and other issues that touch ordinary families. Her solutions are all bad economics and very expensive, but they will enable her to pose as a friend of the middle class.

All six U.S. senators thought to be planning a run for the Democratic nomination for president voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The issue would be dramatically joined if the Democratic nominee were opposed, for example, by Sen. John McCain(R.-Ariz.), who supported NAFTA, CAFTA, WTO and permanent normal trading relations for China.

Will Republicans continue to follow George W. Bush in his post-election travels to solicit even more Asian products made by cheap labor and subsidized by their governments? Or will Republicans get smart on the jobs issue and re-establish their friendship with the Reagan Democrats?