Monday, January 09, 2012

Remember the good old days of wage slavery?

Historian Rick Pearlstein noticed the other day Rick Santorum waxing nostalgic for those halcyon days when his own grandfather was a wage slave:

Rick Santorum got high marks for his near-victory speech in Iowa. In the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne called it "by far the best speech Tuesday night." Santorum's address impressed me, too, but for a different reason: his astonishing endorsement of feudalism, wrapped up in a soaring tribute to something he called "freedom." A sharper illustration of the bad faith of at the heart of conservative rhetoric I never have seen in all my life.

He began by doing what conservative presidential candidates always do in this season of economic privation: talked about his family's one-time economic privation. It wasn't off the cuff. "As you know," he said, "I do not speak from notes, but there's a couple of things I want to say that are a little more emotional, so I'm going to read them as I wrote them." And what were the words he so carefully wrote to read at this, his moment of triumph? That his grandfather came to the United States from Italy in 1925: "because Mussolini had been in power now three years, and he had figured out that fascism was something that would crush his spirit and freedom and give his children something less than he wanted for them." He came because—why else?—he loved freedom.


"He left to the coal fields of Southern Pennsylvania. He worked in the mine at a company town, got paid with coupons, he used to call them."

Let us dwell on that. Grandpa Santorum lived in a company town where he was paid in "scrip" in lieu of cash. That means what his grandson calls "freedom" was, well and truly, something more like slavery.
Pearlstein goes on to note the irony of Santorum relating a story of his grandfather becoming a wage slave in order to sell free market fundamentalism to voters when it was government regulation that did more to give workers like his grandfather freedom than the "free reign of property."

The key point, and one that is not likely to find an effective messenger in Democrats beholden to the same wealth that Republicans are, is "that sometimes—frequently—it takes government to establish liberty where none existed before."

No comments: