By now, most Americans have read or heard about the remarks of James P. Hoffa in warming up the crowd in Detroit before President Obama’s Labor Day address. In words that dwarfed those of the President himself, Teamsters President Hoffa denounced the Tea Party-backed Republicans in Congress and declared: “Let’s take these sonofabitches out and give America back to an America where we belong.”
Strong partisan words, all right, and—while it is certainly not the rhetoric of “civility” that Obama has long called for—it should not be all that shocking coming from the leader of a 1.4 million-member labor union and a partisan Democrat.
What makes Hoffa’s words shocking to those who have known and followed him is that he was not always a partisan Democrat. In fact, one of the most notable factors in Hoffa’s rise in 1997 to the union helm once held by his legendary father was his promise “of a union that will not be tied to any one political party.”
In an exclusive interview with HUMAN EVENTS (Dec. 5, 1997), Hoffa—who was prepared to seek the Teamster presidency after incumbent Ron Carey was ruled ineligible because he violated union election rules—vowed he would join with other unions in helping Democrats overturn the Republican majority in Congress in 1998.
“No, we’re not going to do that,” Hoffa said. “The Teamsters will not be dictated to by any one party, and instead we will talk to and support candidates individually—Democrat, Republican and independent—who share the goals of the Teamsters union.”
Hoffa went on to contrast his vision of the Teamster political agenda with that of Carey, who had edged him out in the 1996 election that was eventually voided by a court-appointed election monitor. Carey, Hoffa told us, “was trying to make the union an appendage of the Democratic Party.”
In demanding a Teamsters Union that would not walk in lock-step with the Democratic Party, Hoffa was calling for a return to its pre-Carey days. Dave Beck, Teamster president from 1950 to ’58, was a registered Republican who in 1956 led the union in supporting President Eisenhower’s reelection. Beck’s successor, the elder Hoffa, was an enthusiastic backer of Richard Nixon in 1960. Frank Fitzsimmons, the man Hoffa handpicked as president when Hoffa went to prison in 1967, backed President Nixon for reelection in 1972. Under Presidents Roy Lee Williams and Jackie Presser in the 1980s, the Teamsters twice supported Ronald Reagan for President. Carey’s immediate predecessor, William McCarthy, endorsed George H.W. Bush in ’88.
“All that ended when Ron Carey took over in 1991,” Hoffa told HUMAN EVENTS in 1991. He noted that Carey and his chief lieutenants at the “Marble Palace” (the union’s nickname for its national headquarters in Washington) twice took the union into Bill Clinton’s corner and “did so with no input whatsoever from the 580 Teamster locals.”
During that interview 14 years ago, Hoffa went on to praise then-Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R.-Mich.), a strong conservartive who, as chairman of the House Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, pressed for an investigation of Teamster money-laundering under Carey. He also cited Pat Buchanan, who, Hoffa felt, “perhaps more than any other candidate for President [in 1996], talked about issues of concern to American labor, mainly keeping good jobs in America.”
Under James Hoffa, the Teamsters Union has remained the “appendage of the Democratic Party” he charged it had become under arch-nemesis Ron Carey. In 1998, Hoffa’s first year as president, the Teamsters gave $2,333,270, or 93%, of its political dollars to Democratic candidates, and only 6% ($149,650) to Republicans. In this election cycle so far, the union has given 97% of its political dollars to Democrats and only 3% to Republicans. (Figures provided by the Center for Responsive Politics).
And now comes the salvo about taking “these sonofabitches out.”
Simply put, it’s a far cry from the words of the union “reformer” in 1997 who promised “a union that will not be tied to any one political party.”