In those tumultuous days when I was in college, back in the late '60s, Johnny Carson was the establishment. Network television was hopelessly establishment, and The Tonight Show was its apotheosis. We had our own music, our counterculture, and when some of its performers popped up on late-night TV, why, that was just one more instance of Herbert Marcuse's repressive tolerance. Showcase and defang, that's what Carson was up to.
Well, Michael Gerson certainly went out in a blaze of glory. The president's speechwriter, now bound for other duties within the administration, left with a Lincolnesque, Wilsonian, Kennedyite sound of the trumpets, and George W. Bush delivered it as well as any text he's ever been handed. The gap between the scripted Bush and the unscripted Bush must be measured in light years.
It was one of those classic strange-bedfellow alliances. When the New Unity Partnership (NUP), a consortium of five international unions, formed in summer 2003 (as first reported by The American Prospect in September 2003), it brought together three of labor's most progressive unions -- the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), UNITE (the clothing and textile workers union), and HERE (the hotel employees union) -- with two unions from the more conservative side of labor's spectrum: the Laborers and the Carpenters. Indeed, the Carpenters, having hosted several Labor Day events with President George W. Bush, was the only significant American union that boasted of its ties to Bush's decidedly anti-union administration.
For a life-and-death debate about the future of the labor movement, the current conﬂict over the structure and role of America's unions got off to a singularly inauspicious start. A week and a day after John Kerry's -- and the unions' -- defeat at the hands of George W. Bush, the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO convened in Washington for a postmortem. The day had been ﬁlled with staff reports -- federation operatives brieﬁng the assembled union presidents on the details of the election-day program, by far the most extensive in labor's history. (“You'd have thought we won,” one union president commented when the meeting was done.)