Progressive Sheepdogs, Democrat Sheep: Broken Promises & the Minimum Wage

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

If President Obama and his party didn't even try to deliver on their 2008 campaign promise of a minimum wage hike when they had the White House and both houses of Congress on lockdown in 2010 and 2011, what does their sudden rediscovery of the minimum wage mean now, when they know they can move nothing through Congress?  Are they and their sheepdogs, the so-called “progressive Democrats” just yanking our chain again?

Progressive Sheepdogs, Democrat Sheep: Broken Promises & the Minimum Wage

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

As a presidential candidate back in 2007 and 2008, Barack Obama promised to ram a hike in the minimum wage through Congress by 2011. Like the president's promises to renegotiate NAFTA and enact labor law reforms to make union organizing possible again, it wasn't one of those high profile pledges he repeated at every opportunity in front of every audience. He didn't have to, that's not the way it works.

If you're a right-leaning Democrat nowadays, here's how it works: you make those kinds of promises before small audiences of labor and poor folks. From that point, it's the job of your sheepdogs, the Democrat “progressives” campaigning for you to keep the herd of your base voters in line by putting those words in your mouth a lot more often, and with a lot more emphasis than you actually place upon them. Promises are promises, after all, and promises made by the wealthy and powerful to the poor and powerless are worth exactly nothing.

Inevitably, once in office the corporate Democrat (is there any other kind?) breaks his or her promise to his poor and apart from their votes which they've already given away, powerless constituents. At this point, his other sheepdogs, the “pragmatic” Democrats wisely bark at the herd about how naïve and foolish they are, that they don't really understand how politics works, that this one president or mayor or whatever can't save them or change the world, or do much anything really.

With President Obama's popularity at an all time low, the president has rediscovered that something like 80% of the US favor not just a significantly higher minimum wage, but a minimum wage indexed to some kind of cost of living formula. Even a big majority of Republican voters are in favor of this. So the president has muttered his traditional few words about the minimum wage, and from MSNBC to Huffington Post to labor and the nonprofits, the chorus of presidential sheepdogs are baying – the president cares, the Democrats care, they want to raise the minimum wage, but the evil Republicans will want to thwart them....

The problem with this of course, is that whenever Democrats are in charge of Congress, they never try to raise the minimum wage. It's a promise they make to get elected, and something you never hear about again until they're safely in the minority again and need something to blame the evil Republicans for blocking. Let's be clear, evil Republicans did not block efforts by President Obama or Congressional Democrats to raise the minimum wage in 2010 and 2011, when they controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. During that time, there were no bills introduced to raise the minimum wage. There were no presidential speeches or off the cuff presidential remarks mentioning raising the minimum wage. There was no pressure from the White House or Democrat leadership in the House or Senate to raise the minimum wage, despite the importance placed upon the president's promise by his sheepdogs, the “progressive” wing of the Democratic party.

Leading Democrats have always known that overwhelming majorities of Democrat voters want an increase in the minimum wage. But it's a campaign issue, and Democrats only campaign differently than Republicans, not govern differently.

It's worth noting that the first lady, Michelle Obama has devoted lots of time to shilling for Wal-Mart, the largest and most ruthless low-wage employer in the country. Even Fortune magazine claims Wal-Mart could substantially raise wages and benefits across the board without its shareholders taking much of a hit. But Democrat sheepdogs at MSNBC and labor won't touch the First Lady. They bark only at the evil Republicans who won't pass a “jobs bill” or a minimum wage hike or stop questioning the president's birth certificate.

Under the people-proof and democracy-proof matrix we call politics in these United States of America, the fact that Democrats overwhelmingly support jacking the minimum wage doesn't mean that elected Democrats will really even try, like the O'Jays said, to Give the People What They Want. It's just a signal for the progressive sheepdogs to start barking again, a chain with which to herd us back into line, to circle the wagons again around the White House. 

It's just more progressive white noise from our black president.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via this site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.