Verbose son of Calvin Coolidge


Calvin Coolidge didn't say much, but he did say this: "After all, the chief business of the American people is business."

Maybe that's why he didn't say much. His frame of reference seemed rather narrow.

It became apparent last week that George W. Bush, though exponentially more verbose, is "Retro Cal," meaning Coolidge's philosophical descendent.

That, I should stipulate, is on domestic policy. While a laissez-faire type of guy on government's role at home, "Silent Cal" was an isolationist on foreign policy. George W. famously and disastrously isn't.

You don't start a business simply to start a business. You don't embark on a career merely to have a career. You don't take a job only to have somewhere to go for eight hours a day.

You do it to provide a vital or helpful good or service to other people and make money for yourself so that you can avail yourself of the vital or helpful goods and services others provide. The ultimate objective is a higher quality of human life, both individually and collectively.

What happens if a business is not good for the quality of life of its employees? This is when we must make tough choices. Someone must go into the coal mine because coal has value to the quality of life of the population at large. Our obligation is to do our best to make coal-mining safer.

The Bush administration clearly believes our policy preference should be with the subset of our population that actually owns and operates businesses, not the people actually doing the jobs.

I say that based on the record that became obvious in congressional hearings last week.

You will remember that, decades ago, conservative-minded people railed about OSHA, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a Richard Nixon creation. The complaint was always that this was an over-zealous agency that harassed well-intended employers with undue regulation and paperwork.

But it turns out that George W. and his people object not to nitpicking, but to the very idea that a federal agency would bother business owners about keeping their workers safe.

Since Bush has been in office, OSHA has advanced only one new worker safety rule, and that was ordered by a federal court. Much of the "regulating" has been handled by "regulators" brought in from the very businesses they're now "regulating." These people talk a lot about how most workers' injuries are workers' fault, which, while true, doesn't excuse those that aren't.

Then there's the case of the microwave popcorn plant in Missouri. Wanting to make its popcorn taste buttery without using butter, it applied a modified food-favoring agent. Nine employees got seriously sick in their lungs. Scientists in Washington determined that they got sick from breathing this modified food-flavoring agent. The problem is apparently only with vapors in the manufacturing process, not eating the food.

OSHA did nothing. Only last week, under pressure at the congressional hearing, did OSHA say it would issue a safety bulletin and do inspections at thousands of food plants where workers breath the additive.

Having a phony buttery taste on microwave popcorn -- is that a quality of life enhancement? Is it vital to the extent that danger to the health and safety of workers is an acceptable trade-off?

Speaking only for myself, I say absolutely not. The question for all of us is whether we're ready to move past the Coolidge administration -- on the role of government regarding business, I mean.

On foreign policy, isolation doesn't look so bad some days.

John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.

 

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