Populism Gets a Hearing in New York City

By Maurice Pinzon
Yesterday, as Massachusetts Senator John Kerry was being endorsed by the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., Senator John Edwards ”” his only apparent rival for the Democratic nomination ”” was in New York, criticizing President Bush. Senator Edwards said the president’s policies have been increasing the nation’s economic divisions. He charged President Bush with looking out only for Wall Street’s well-being, to the detriment of other parts of New York.

Senator Edwards has been increasingly vocal in discussing the consequences of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to American workers, but until recently the jobs mostly had been characterized as manufacturing jobs. When the senator came to New York, however, he warned that manufacturing jobs are not the only ones at risk of going overseas ”” so are jobs involving intellectual labor.

During yesterday’s speech, Senator Edwards criticized President Bush’s policies, saying, “This president thinks that there is only one street in New York: Wall Street. And he thinks that when Wall Street is doing great, then everyone is doing fine.” He said that the decisions made on Wall Street “have a real impact right here in New York City, right here at one of the greatest universities in the world. Where once the only jobs that went overseas were in places like my hometown, today the jobs leaving are in places like your hometown. In the last few months, we have learned how journalists are taking jobs in journalism, financial analysis, and law to Bangalore.”

Senator Edwards then said, “Right now, most companies use the low road. That means they cut your wages and benefits as far as they can just to please the stock market. And when they can’t cut anymore, they pick up your job and take it to another country, where they can pay just pennies an hour. Our trade policies encourage it, and our tax policies reward companies for it.”

Senator Edwards also alluded to the great economic divide in the country when he described two New Yorks: “There’s one of privilege and comfort, and another filled with struggle. And they are close together and collide every day like in no other city. Right here, we are a short walk from some of the most dynamic neighborhoods in America and some of the poorest.”

Mayor Bloomberg, who has led an activist administration following policies philosophically and substantively different from mainstream Republicanism, took issue with Senator Edwards’s description of New York. The mayor said: “The real estate prices throughout all five boroughs are going up. Commercial vacancy rates are going down. There is an optimism about New York that you haven’t seen in years that is preposterous. New York is the world’s second home, and for anybody to say that, I guess he just hasn’t been here. We’d love to have him come here and spend some money and see just what goes on in the streets of New York, where crime is down, welfare rolls is down, jobs are coming in, people are building.”

Last week Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Barney Frank criticized the economy along similar lines when he spoke at the Milano Graduate School in Manhattan. But Congressman Frank went even further than Senator Edwards in describing the problems the economy faces. Congressman Frank said, “There is tremendous resistance to globalization.” And he continued, “Ten years ago we were told, ”˜Don’t worry about that. We will retrain these people so they can become technologically literate. We will retrain to get them into the technology field.’” Then Congressman Frank asked, “Guess what jobs are going overseas?”

“The jobs that people are being told they could be trained for are now going overseas,” he said. Congressman Frank said he did not think it was possible to pass any sort of trade bill as a result of the backlash against trade.

Congressman Frank attributed the U.S. economic malaise not only to trade issues but also to a “perception in this country that the fruits of increased productivity are simply not being shared, and therefore, it doesn’t work to tell people that they should accept some short-term sacrifice in their economic lives because the country as a whole will be better off.”

A Bush campaign spokesman returned a call placed by New York News Network but wanted to focus on Senator Edwards’s charge that the Republicans had politicized 9/11. The spokesman did not have time to comment on the trade issue.

Governor Pataki’s office did not return New York News Network’s phone calls.

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