Do union members put values above selfish economic interests?
Friday, January 18, 2008 at 09:54AM
Skeptic in Civil liberties, Elections 2008, Human rights

At a rally yesterday hosted by Service Employees International Union (SEIU), John Edwards drew much louder and longer applause for his promise to restore the protections of the Constitution than he did for any of the economic and populist red meat he threw out.  I need help understanding why.

Edwards spoke to about 1,000 mostly union members at the SEIU headquarters in Los Angeles.  I saw T-shirts and signs for SEIU, the carpenters union, and the United Steel Workers.  The ethnic makeup was overwhelmingly Hispanic and Anglo with just a few African-Americans. 

Edwards gave his whole stump speech to a friendly but restrained crowd.  They applauded his positions on universal health care, ending combat presence in Iraq within a year, and criticizing Governor Schwartzenegger for proposing 10% cuts in K-12 education, health care, and aid to the poor.  They cheered his call for an increase in the minimum wage to $9.50 and his support for easier unionization.  As far as I could tell, Edwards pressed all the other union hot buttons too and got expressions of approval.  Along the way he also got applause for decrying the greed of the haves, and the cruelty of health insurance executives. 

But then toward the end of his speech, this odd thing happened.  He promised to have the federal government to start complying with the Constitution again.  Specifically, he said that Guantanamo and all secret prisons around the world should be closed, that "extraordinary renditions" should end, that our government should never torture people--no exceptions--and that the federal government should stop spying on Americans. By a large margin, this part of his speech got the loudest and longest applause of anything he said.  Why?

Did the crowd hold human rights and civil liberties more dearly than the economic issues that I presume are at the core of their union affiliations? 

As I recall, nothing else Edwards said could be as easily interpreted as a direct personal attack on President Bush.  Did the crowd sound off to register its strong disapproval of Bush? 

Something else?  I'm stumped.

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