Most Americans would be aghast if during the heyday of the Bush Administration the President had invited Halliburton to sit in for him on his weekly radio address. The inappropriateness of such a scenario is so clear and outrageous it doesn’t require any explanation.
So why is it that the Democrats in California can so easily and with impunity cede their statewide weekly radio address to an outside special interest group?
That’s exactly what they did when they recently handed the mike to Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. While her address was a fairly innocuous tribute to Cesar Chavez, the content is irrelevant. The Blue Dog would be equally critical if the Governor handed over his weekly radio address to the California Chamber of Commerce to promote “Take-Your-Daughter-to-Work Day.”
The point is this: Have we become so numb and cynical that such boundaries no longer matter?
The purpose of these weekly radio communiqués is to deliver a message directly from our elected representatives – not to curry favor with or reward a special interest group. And labor, especially public employee unions, in California is at the top of this special interest heap. During election season they offer up countless millions of dollars worth of “in-kind” contributions, including thousands of bodies to call voters from phone banks, walk precincts and hold rallies.
There is a surreal perversion about these in-kind contributions going in the opposite direction. And it has even happened on the floor of the State Assembly last year, when legislators loudly applauded a labor leader sitting in the gallery right before a big labor vote his organization was sponsoring. We wouldn’t stand for oil companies being similarly honored before a legislative vote on offshore drilling. And we shouldn’t tolerate it with labor or any other group.
We’re talking about a brand of symbolism that is intensely powerful. But as it becomes more accepted and unquestioned, its effect on the democratic process continues to corrode public trust. After all, where do we go as a society when our leaders surrender not just their own voices, but their responsibilities to avoid even the appearance of bias, favoritism and special interest coddling?