Dear Democratic candidates: stop talking, start doing

Stop talking, start doingHere’s something that drives me nuts about Democratic politicians. (I’m going to pick on Hillary Clinton here, but it’s important to note that this is not something unique to her — every major Democratic Presidential candidate in my lifetime has done the same thing, including Barack Obama, John Kerry, Al Gore and Bill Clinton. It’s a Democratic problem, not a Hillary problem.)

Take a look at this story in Politico today:

Hillary Clinton to fast food workers: ‘I want to be your champion’

DETROIT — Hillary Clinton told a conference of fast food workers Sunday that she supported their push for a $15 minimum wage, saying “I want to be your champion.”

Appearing by phone at a meeting of 1,300 workers, Clinton voiced her most emphatic support yet for the nationwide Fight for $15 movement, which is also seeking to unionize fast food giants like McDonald’s…

“I hope that every one of you will continue to raise your voice until we get all working Americans a better deal,” she said. “I want to be your champion. I want to fight with you every day.”

It then goes on to wax rhapsodic about what a great boost this is for the fast food workers who are struggling to get their fair share of the massive profits their industry rakes in.

All of which is nice. But it does raise a question: if Hillary wants to be fast food workers’ champion, what’s stopping her?

I mean, she doesn’t have to be President to be an outspoken advocate for underpaid workers. She doesn’t have to win an election to do that. She could just… start doing it. Walk with them on their picket lines. Help raise money for strike funds and local politicians who support fast food workers. Use the massive media attention that follows her when she goes to Chipotle to highlight whether the restaurants she visits treat their workers well or badly. And so on.

There’s nothing stopping her, right now, from doing any of those things. She doesn’t need an elected office; she doesn’t even need their permission. She could be out there, fighting with them, being their champion, right now.

And if you want to win these workers’ support, doing any of these things would be a surer way to accomplish that than just making promises could ever be. People aren’t stupid; they know the difference between someone making a promise and someone actually taking action, putting themselves on the line. The person taking action will get their respect — and their votes! — over the other one any day.

So why bother with promises? Just get out there and do it.

Like I said above, this isn’t just a Hillary problem. Barack Obama did the exact same thing when he was running for President in 2007-8. Here’s an example, from November 3, 2007:

If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll will walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America.

Remember all those times President Obama showed up on a picket line after getting elected President? Oh. Right. He never did. Not once.

Put aside the election and the office for a moment, though, and ask the same question of Candidate Obama in 2007 that we’re asking of Candidate Clinton in 2015. What was stopping him? He didn’t need to be President to make a difference by showing up on a picket line. He was already a United States Senator and one of the most famous, influential people in America. His appearance on a picket line would have instantly launched an intense, 24/7 media investigation into the labor practices of the company being picketed. It might have done a lot of good for some people who desperately needed it.

But that didn’t happen, obviously. All those people got was the promise. The words.

It’s almost enough to make you think that these politicians don’t really believe these words they are saying. That they care more about “optics” and “positioning” than they do about actually standing up for people like underpaid, struggling workers. That they’re just cynically making promises they have no intention of keeping, because the people they’re making them to aren’t the constituents they really care about, so who cares as long as they vote the right way every four years and then shut up and go away.

So, Democratic politicians: don’t feed our cynicism. Help us believe in you. Stop talking, start doing.