31st October 2010
The Working Families Party, representing just 40,878 registered voters in a state of 19 million residents, is becoming the most influential power broker in New York politics. Its mission is to drive the Democratic Party further to the left, strengthen the grip that public-sector unions have on local elected officials, and institutionalize the power of taxpayer-subsidized special interests in the Empire State. The expansion of the party—founded in 1998, in an attempt to replace the Clinton-era Democratic Party’s centrism with an agenda that the WFP’s executive director, Dan Cantor, forthrightly calls “Social Democracy 101”—has potentially national implications.
Securing the WFP nomination comes with important perks. Perhaps chief among them is a formidable ground game, courtesy of the party’s political-consulting arm, Data and Field Services (DFS), created in 2007. DFS works only for candidates whom the WFP endorses. The two entities are supposed to be legally separate to comply with election and campaign-finance laws, but they share office space on the third floor of the building at 2-4 Nevins Street in Brooklyn. (The building also served as Acorn’s headquarters before that organization was rebranded, amid national scandal, as “New York Communities for Change.”) This cozy arrangement has come without the apparent obligation to pay rent consistently over the last decade, as investigative reporter Edward-Isaac Dovere, who has done authoritative work on the WFP for City Hall, has uncovered.
The fact that three of the five New York City borough district attorneys ran on the Working Families Party line creates a political hurdle for further investigations. Staten Island’s Dan Donovan—who, along with Manhattan’s Cyrus Vance, Jr., is free of the WFP association—is now locked in a general-election battle for state attorney general with Democratic nominee Eric Schneiderman, a longtime labor-ally assemblyman running on the WFP line. As for New York City’s next mayoral election in 2013, the three most likely Democratic candidates—Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, and Congressman Anthony Weiner—have all campaigned under the WFP banner, promising a potentially expensive new era of labor influence in post-Bloomberg city hall.
Truly a sordid tale, and a situation that bears watching. But the aspect that I find most interesting is the name.
‘Working Families’ is a trope commonly found in the mouths of politicians and other public bloviators; I doubt that anyone has given it much serious thought, since it’s one of those things that sounds as if it ought to mean something–although most people would be hard-pressed to say exactly what.
But most of us understand what it says. It’s a code phrase for ‘working-class families’, because we’re not allowed (in American politics) to acknowledge the plain reality that there are, indeed, social and economic classes in God’s Country. Nobody seriously believes that Bill Gates’ family isn’t a ‘working family’, since I doubt that any United Auto Worker doing a double shift put in as much time and sweat as Bill did during his heyday at Microsoft.
No, it refers to the families of those we traditionally categorize as ‘working class’–blue collar and semi-professional workers, people who punch a time clock and get paid by the hour, people whose AGI can be summed up by totaling their W-2s every April 15th.
The existence of such people as a separate ‘class’ owes a lot to the residuum of Marxist thought in our politics, where ‘workers’ are distinct from ‘peasants’ and ‘bourgeoisie’ and ‘capitalists’ and the ‘intelligentsia’. It’s all horseshit, of course, but such mythologies persist long after the reality is drained out of them, rather like abandoned railway crossings after the trains have all disappeared.
The left in this country seems to specialize in forming organizations with names that suggest the precise opposite of what they’re actually about. (If it generates a clever acronym, all the better.) For example, there’s a group called ‘Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting’ (FAIR) that is actually devoted to the suppression of Rush Limbaugh and anybody who ever agreed with him since high school. Ralph Nader’s minions call themselves ‘Public Interest Research Groups’ (PIRG), although they do little research and have no interest whatsoever in anything a rational person might perceive as the public interest. The so-called Southern Poverty Law Center fights southern poverty mainly by attempting to scare the bejesus out of rich liberals (and compensate themselves very well in the course of doing so); their connection with law appears to be seeing how close to the line they can skate with respect to libelling groups that they dislike without quite actually crossing it. And the Daily Kos crowd, ‘MoveOn.org’, specializes in not budging an inch from positions and issues that were old when Clinton left the White House. You get the picture.
This ‘Working Families Party’ is another such. It seems to be devoted to exploiting political power to make sure that their side (chiefly unions and bureaucrats–to the extent that those terms aren’t quite yet redundant) get as much ‘public’ money as possible, and to hell with real working-class families, who will have to be the ones paying for all this with their taxes in a fragile economy teetering under an Empire State Building of public debt.
Ah, well. We have seen the future, and it sucks.