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What do Democrats Want?

More.

10:09 AM, Sep 16, 2011 • By JAY COST
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In a column titled "Democrats Plagued By Ingratitude," Byron York poses these questions:

[L]ook at what (the liberal Democrats) got (from Obama). It's not just historic measures like Obamacare, financial regulation and the stimulus. Obama has presided over lots of other accomplishments, big and small, that should warm the hearts of liberal Democrats. He has used his regulatory powers to shore up the nation's fading unions; could organized labor have a better friend than the man whose appointees are trying to stop Boeing from building a nonunion plant in South Carolina? He pushed repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" through Congress. He nominated and won confirmation of two solidly liberal members of the Supreme Court. He signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act aimed at guaranteeing women equal pay.

If you're a Democrat, what's not to like? What kind of unreasonable standard would make a Democrat unhappy with a president who accomplished those things? And yet many Democrats are beside themselves with frustration and anxiety.

To answer this question, I'd quote the late George Meany, the head of the AFL-CIO.

We do not seek to recast American society in any particular doctrinaire or ideological image.  We seek an ever-rising standard of living.  Sam Gompers once put the matter succinctly.  When asked what the labor movement wanted, he answered, ‘More.’ If by a better standard of living we mean not only more money but more leisure and richer cultural life, the answer remains, “More.”

This is the thread that connects all of the disparate groups in the Democratic coalition -- from industrial/craft labor, to public labor, to the environmentalist movement, to the feminists, to the Congressional Black Caucus, and so on. It's the concept of more. So long as there is more income to redistribute and more "illiberal" behavior to regulate, these groups will not be satisfied.

In fact, there has not been a Democratic president with whom these groups have ever been totally pleased. Even Franklin Roosevelt. He refused to intervene in the "Little Steel Strike" of 1937, so CIO president John L. Lewis took to the radio waves to denounce the man who is today remembered as the patron saint of modern unionism:

It ill behoves one who has supped at labor's table and who has been sheltered in labor's house to curse with equal fervor and fine impartiality both labor and its adversaries when they become locked in deadly embrace.

Think about the context of this quotation. FDR had recently signed into law the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which was the saving grace of unionism. In the 1920s, unions had been on the decline, and they had made virtually no gains during the so-called "First New Deal" of 1933-34. With the NLRA, signed in 1935, FDR totally transformed labor relations, thus making it possible for the Steel Workers Organizing Committee to challenge Republic Steel in the first place. And yet that's not enough for Lewis

That's the key to understanding Democratic anger with this president. Sure, he gave them the greatest policy gains seen since 1965, but there is still more they want. With the rebound of conservatism, they're mad and frustrated because they've now realized that the window for big liberal policy reforms has now closed.

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