The candidates who demonstrate to voters that they value families will win in the November elections. That’s quite a reversal from the 1980s, when the conservative agenda began to be packaged as “family values.”
Until the Bush administration’s sixth year, the Republican Party had patent protection on “family values.” If a distraught (and uninsured) single mom holding her sick child would appear in a TV political ad, it was to deliver “family values” like a sucker punch to the American people — evoked just to change the subject.
I’ll offer an acknowledgment where it’s due. Since 1994, when the Grand Old Party captured the House of Representatives and the Senate, its leadership dictated the political priorities in the United States. Its monopoly rule was interrupted by the midterm elections in ’06. Until then, you could ask a proud “neo-con” about priorities and she/he would answer confidently that whatever the public sector can do, the private sector can do it better. After all, they would explain, everybody knows that the global marketplace, when left alone to do its magic, will shower prosperity upon the land.
Yet in 2008, this discontented and war-weary nation has been set in motion. Working class voters — saddled with debt, hounded by inflation, cast off by recession and cast out by foreclosure — are far less likely to be detoured by Karl Rove-style pressing of the “family values” hot button. This change in attitude is evidenced by comments made on call-in programs like C-Span and by steadily increasing numbers of swing voters — Reagan Democrats and lifelong Republicans.
If the high turnout in the Democratic Party primary elections is an indicator, it appears that voters will play an active role in the general election, too. But don’t take my word for it. Ask your neighbors and co-workers.
Workers and their families are angry about jobs going overseas. A 2007 Rockefeller Foundation survey of American workers found that nearly 1 in 3 were worried about losing their jobs and nearly 1 in 2 were worried about the prospects of finding a new job.
They want a solution to the health care crisis. According to the same Rockefeller survey, one in five used their savings at least one time during the last year to pay for health-related expenses. Nearly 40 percent were worried about losing health care coverage and 45 percent worried about paying more for health care and getting less coverage.
They want to preserve the American Dream, a vision where conditions improve — not worsen — for all families with each succeeding generation. However, according to the 2005 Principal Financial Well-Being Index, 70 percent of American workers think that realizing the dream has been or will be harder than it was for their parents.
They still believe in trading honest labor for honest pay, but they have seen too many hard-working people go under-rewarded or get kicked to the curb, while the rich get richer. As activist/writer Holly Sklar reported in 2005, median household income has suffered in this first decade of the 21st century, even though Americans work an average of over 200 hours more per year than workers in other wealthy industrialized nations.
Workers and their families want a government that is truly on their side. The politicians who don’t value families but think they can fake us out again with the “family values” shtick are in for a rude awakening on Nov. 4.
Tim Mills is chairperson of the Jobs Campaign/UAW Local 592, in Rockford, Ill.