One of the enduring questions of the 2004 election is, “Why don't people vote their economic self-interest?” I believe that the analysts misunderstand how most working class families perceive their economic self-interest.
The Greatest Generation learned that the path to the middle class was through collective action—through unions and government programs like the GI Bill. Today's generation has learned that to stay in the middle class you shop at Wal-Mart.
It's the difference between a largely national economy in 1955 and a global economy in 2005. A national economy could embrace the philosophy of higher wages. A global economy embraces the philosophy of lower prices.
When so many “red state” lower middle-class voters cast their ballots for George Bush, they were telling us that the only economic message that made sense to them was to hold on to their shrinking piece of the pie by shopping at Wal-Mart.
If progressives really want Americans to vote their economic interest—and I believe we should—we need to agree on an economic message that challenges the destructive force of the global economy and provides Americans with a bold set of values and policies on how to civilize it.
Here are a few suggestions:
• Embed labor, human rights, and environmental standards in all trade agreements
• Define health care as a human right.
• Stop our dependence on foreign oil by adopting the Apollo Alliance program, creating 3 million new jobs through clean energy technologies.
There is one thing that Wal-Mart should have taught us—we'll never win the highest office with the cheapest ideas.David Foster is director of District #11 United Steelworkers of America.