The first Republican president of the United States was a friend of labor and a champion of working people.
“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital,” Abraham Lincoln told the Congress in 1861. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
When most of the Republicans who would be president gathered in Milwaukee Tuesday night to make their cases in a forum that Lincoln would not have recognized as a debate, they rejected the mantle of the radical founders of a party formed to fight the reactionaries who Lincoln warned would “place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor, in the structure of government.”
Despite the ideological apostasy of the 16th president’s political descendants, however, the Lincoln sensibility was on display in Milwaukee Tuesday night.
Outside the Milwaukee Theatre, where the fourth Republican “debate” was being managed by Rupert Murdoch’s minions from the Fox Business Network and The Wall Street Journal, crowds of actual working people marched for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and union rights. They came, as fast-food worker Tim Roach said, to highlight the fact that while Republican candidates, aides, and donors were dining at Milwaukee restaurants, “the people making that food are not making a livable wage.”
Behind the security barricades and police lines that separated the debaters from the residents of a city that in 2012 cast just 19 percent of its votes for the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Wisconsinite Paul Ryan, the Republican hopefuls spoke as elitists rather than populists.
They could not, however, completely ignore the demands of the working Milwaukeeans—and residents of other cities where thousands of fast-food workers struck Tuesday for a living wage.
The strikers forced the wage issue onto the agenda.
Moderator Neil Cavuto opened the debate by noting that “as we gather tonight—just outside, and across the country—picketers are gathering as well. They’re demanding an immediate hike in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Just a few hours ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed doing the same for all state workers, the first governor to do so.”
Then he asked Trump, “As the leading presidential candidate on this stage and one whose tax plan exempts couples making up to $50,000 a year from paying any federal income taxes at all, are you sympathetic to the protesters’ cause, since a $15 wage works out to about $31,000 a year?”