After the 2004 presidential election loss, two of us here started a local political group. We were in the newspaper. Shortly thereafter we were contacted by the then-CEO of this candy company.I don’t remember how he contacted us, probably an email. If I had known what I know now I would have recognized that as a threat and that might have been the end of it, but we were all naïve about email back then. We didn’t look for subtext or malicious, secret intent. He congratulated us on our new organization and wished us luck in the next election. It wasn’t partisan. It was more like this: “Democracy! Don’t give up, please. Thank you.”
So time passes and then we’re at the 2008 primary, and I’m involved as an Obama delegate from this congressional district. I attend a couple of Ohio Obama organizing events prior to the 2008 state primary and he’s there, and we chat a bit about the Democratic Party primary process and Democrats, generally, process and psychology. What’s a super delegate, how does Ohio’s primary process relate to pledged delegates, why are Democrats such a huge pain, those sorts of things. I feel as if I’m explaining “Democrats” to him, an organizational culture he’s unfamiliar with but studying. So Obama’s the nominee and he periodically checks in with us. We win in 2008, and I don’t see the now-retired CEO again until 2012, when we invite him to the county Party dinner and he attends. He again checks in periodically, and we go on to win in 2012.
This is a link to an interview he gave with Bloomberg immediately prior to the 2012 election. I don’t know if he considers himself “a Democrat”, now, I would bet not. He says his company has core beliefs that are not exclusively geared to short-term profit. He says he could move production to Canada 120 miles away and make a lot more money (the US has sugar price supports that hurt domestic candy producers) but his employees are a huge asset so he doesn’t. He says with great pride that 25% of his employees have been working there 25 years or more.
I was struck by his response when he’s asked about the political climate in Ohio, and how it relates to the economy. His entire focus is on what we went through, in the Great Recession. He doesn’t mention it here but his employees are union, they’re Teamsters, so he has to actually negotiate with them which may be why he knows what they went through. He talks about the fear and uncertainty he saw “on the faces of our people every day” and that what he refers to as The Great Recession was “very real, very painful.” He tells them unemployment was at 17% and probably at 25% in underemployment and people were terrified. We saw that here, too. We saw some really alarming behavior in this office, people just stressed to the breaking point, losing their temper or crying or (the worst) just shuffling in with foreclosure papers or a notice of hearing on a collection action and showing no affect at all. They had the safety net; unemployment insurance, food stamps, school lunch subsidies, heating aid, Medicaid for some, but far from Paul Ryan’s impression that they were all lolling about in Obama’s statist hammocks, they weren’t sleeping at all. We heard that again and again, how no one was sleeping well. He says that he remembers his mother lecturing him on the Great Depression and that he now has “some sense” of what she meant. He also says that “working people in particular have experienced trickle down for 30 years and they’re pretty skeptical about what’s trickling down”. Whoa, there, Marxist. Who let this 1%-impersonator on the Bloomberg set!
I was so pleased he focused on what happened, The Great Recession, because I feel as if I don’t want that to go on by without more attention paid to what just happened to all of us. It seems as if the entire focus going forward has been on whether markets and managers are sufficiently confident and that, to me, is the wrong question. I think we should be asking if people are confident in markets and management. Knowing that, knowing how terrible that time was, how does constantly threatening to push us all off a cliff help with our confidence levels? What about the seemingly deliberate and needlessly dramatic depiction of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as “bankrupt”? Those things are the safety net, SAFETY being the key word there. Wouldn’t intangibles like “certainty” and “the ability to plan for next month” be most important to people who have the fewest tangible assets to fall back on?
Did what we’re all witnessing now happen after the Great Depression? Did a big herd of wealthy people descend and immediately start delivering threats and stern lectures to the people “out here” who just survived something like the Great Recession? Is there any precedent for a group like, oh, Fix The Debt, after an economic collapse?