Both President Barack Obama and Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania in their weekly addresses released early Saturday morning on Aug. 31, 2013 commemorated the last true weekend of summer, Labor Day and its original meaning and tradition, all the while promoting their own party's particular agenda. President Obama focused on his middle class job's plan in his White House weekly address, while Rep. Fitzpatrick discussed his party's opposition to Obama's and the Democrat's policies in the GOP Weekly Address. Both addresses tried to invoke the modern economic struggle to relate to the message of Labor Day, with Obama and Fitzpatrick agreeing job creation needs to be a priority for Americans.
Labor Day has its historical roots in the 19th century industrial revolution, where factory workers were subjected to long hours and unfair, unsanitary working conditions, with many young children forced into working in order to support the family. The unions were fighting for improved conditions, and first Labor Day was observed on Sept. 5, 1882, with a peaceful parade marching from New York City Hall to Union Square. This began the first "workingmen's holiday," soon states were passing laws reserving the first Monday in September as holiday.
Only after the violent clashes of the Pullman Railroad strikes in 1894, did the U.S. Congress passed legislation making the day a holiday for all workers. As the plight of the worker improved and the rise of the middle class, the meaning of Labor Day has changed to a day of celebrating with "parades, picnics, barbecues, and fireworks" marking the end of summer rather than the plight of workers.
President Obama tried to invoke the original meaning of the holiday's economic struggles in his address, this time relating it to the plight of the middle class. He used his address entitled "Commemorating Labor Day" as an opportunity to emphasize his economic policy plan, continuing and summing up the themes of his summer better bargain economic tour highlighting his successes with the economy and promoting plans to help the middle class.
Obama began his address honoring the history of the holiday, stating; "This Labor Day weekend… we'll also come together as a nation to honor some of our own - the working men and women of America who, across the generations, built this country up and helped make us who we are today. On Monday, we'll celebrate that proud history. We'll pay tribute to the values working Americans embody - hard work."
The President discussed the deteriorating economic situation from the last decade, and before that that has been making the divide between rich and poor even wider, squeezing out the middle class; "For even longer than that, inequality has steadily risen; the journey of upward mobility has become harder. And in too many communities across this country, the shadow of poverty continues to cast a pall over our fellow citizens."
Obama also emphasized the economic policy successes his administration has implemented. "We've fought our way back from the worst recession of our lifetimes. And thanks to the grit and resilience of the American people, we've begun to lay a foundation for stronger, more durable economic growth."
The President also seized the moment to sell his economic agenda initiatives he has been introducing throughout his summer economic policy tour; "That's why, over the past month, I've traveled all across America, laying out my ideas for how we can build on the cornerstones of what it means to be middle class. A good job that pays a good wage. A good education. A home of your own. Health care when you get sick. A secure retirement even if you're not rich. … Our economy will keep getting stronger and more Americans will be able to join the ranks of the middle-class."
President Obama concluded his address going back to the larger Labor Day theme; "So this Labor Day… I hope you'll also take a moment to reflect on the many contributions of our working men and women. For generations, it was the great American middle class that made our economy the envy of the world. And as long as I'm President, I'm going to keep fighting to make sure that happens again."
In contrast, Rep. Fitzpatrick's GOP address more loosely applied the Labor Day theme, the address entitled "Celebrating Our Nation of Builders: focused on many of the Republican Congress' policies in opposition to the President's domestic agenda including; President Obama's health care reform bill, the Affordable Care Act with is being implemented for individuals this October, Obama's energy policy and opposition to the XL Keystone oil sands pipeline, and the Republican perennial opposition to big government and tax increases.
Speaking on the health care law, the Pennsylvania congressman stated; "President Obama's health care law comes to mind…. It simply isn't working as promised - and the president knows it…. Republicans want to protect everyone from this health care law so we can focus on step-by-step, patient-centered reforms that actually lower costs. We think it's only fair to give all Americans the same delay the president is giving to big businesses."
Fitzpatrick criticized Obama's opposition to the Keystone Pipeline, and his energy program in general, stating; "President Obama's energy policies are another concern. Republicans have an all-of-the-above energy strategy that will help lower prices, boost manufacturing, and improve our national security. But the president is blocking efforts to create jobs and make energy more affordable. Case in point: the Keystone energy pipeline…. it's passed every environmental review. Labor unions want it. It's privately funded - no taxpayer dollars involved. And again, it has bipartisan support in Congress. "
Congressman Fitzpatrick emphasized that Americans are concerned about "the size and scope of the federal government." Particularly being concerned about the President's plan to raise taxes saying; "Republicans want to get spending under control and simplify the tax code - making it flatter and fairer for everyone…. But the president is still pushing more of the same tax hikes and 'stimulus'-style policies that have left us with weak job growth, high prices, and stagnant paychecks. "
Rep. Fitzpatrick's conclusion agreed with one aspect of Obama's agenda; job creation, stating; "That's the goal of the Republican jobs plan… focused on breaking down the government roadblocks that are hurting our economy, and putting Americans back in the driver's seat. The Congressman continued tying together his address in relation to Labor Day; "Because we want to make sure that the workers we're celebrating this weekend can keep doing what they do best: building. Creating. And preserving the American Dream for future generations."
Since Wednesday, July 24, 2013, President Obama has embarked on a jobs and economic inequality tour for his better bargain for the middle class plan that was launched at a Knox College speech that refocused his economic vision for the remainder of his term with an emphasis on jobs creation and improving the position of the middle class. His tour also took him to Florida and Missouri where he spoke about the economy.
Continuing his tour on July 30, Obama unveiled his "grand bargain" proposal in Chattanooga, TN, to lower corporate taxes in exchange for the Republicans supporting a middle class job creation program which would include an increase funding for infrastructure projects around the country, programs to boost manufacturing and training programs.
President Obama then announced his mortgage reform plan in a speech at Desert Vista High School in Pheonix, Arizona on August 6, 2013. The plan included ending government run Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's role in mortgages and shifts the burden on the private sector to the banks.
Obama revealed his latest economic plan on Aug. 22 and 23, 2013 during his college affordability bus tour to upstate New York and Pennsylvania, where he gave speeches and held a town hall meeting, unveiling his plan to curb the rising cost of a college education, reduce graduate debt and make loans repayment easier.
President Obama is looking to gain support for his economic program in advance of his battles with the Republican Congress this fall over the federal budget, a threat of a government shutdown and raising the debt limit. He needs public support as leverage to push Congress into agreeing with his plans for both issues. Meanwhile Republicans support more spending cuts, tax cuts in addition to jobs creation, their clashing viewpoints have led to legislation stalemates.
The showdown this fall promises to continue the economic battle the President and Republican Congress have faced for the last three years reminiscent of the great clashes between the labor unions and the establishment. Only the midterm elections results in 2014 might resolve the ongoing fight.
President Barack Obama's Weekly Address: Commemorating Labor Day, Aug. 31, 2013. Transcript -- Download mp4 -- Download mp3
- Weekly Republican Address: Celebrating Our Nation of Builders, Aug. 31, 2013. Download mp3 -- You Tube Video
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.