Which Side Are You On?

I was thrilled to read earlier this week that Tom Geoghegan is running for Congress, for the seat that Rahm Emmanuel is vacating.  It's a special election, which usually means really low turnout, and there's about 10 people running for it, so goodness knows whether he's got a shot, but I'm excited enough about him that I squeezed out a contribution for him.  Thomas Frank called him an "unrepentant New Dealer" and that's probably fair enough.  He's a lifelong labor lawyer, a supporter of single payer health insurance.

But the main reason that I'm supporting him is that he wrote a book that changed my life.  It's called Which Side Are You On?  Trying To Be For Labor When It's Flat on Its Back.  It begins:

   "Organized labor." Say those words, and your heart sinks. I am a labor lawyer, and my heart sinks. Dumb, stupid organized labor: this is my cause. But too old, too arthritic, to be a cause.

    It was a cause, back in the thirties. Now it is a dumb, stupid mastodon of a thing, crawling off to Bal Harbour to die. How did it outlive George Meany? Sometimes, as a mental exercise, I try to think of the AFL-CIO in the year 2001. But I cannot do it. The whole idea is too perverse.

    U.S. manufactunng has gone down the drain, and with it, it seems, the entire labor movement.

The book is sad, funny, and poetic.  And it convinced me that tilting at windmills is a perfectly reasonable way to spend your life.  The next thing I knew, I was taking  David Montgomery's classes and a few years later I was in public policy grad school. 

My copy of the book is still on my shelf, and I just picked it up.  I had forgotten that Geoghegan had signed it for me.  It's dated November 1994, a few weeks after the election that brought us Newt Gingrich and the Contract with (or on) America, and I must have been pretty discouraged when I talked to him, because what he wrote is "For some good it may do — Read Coles!  Then just put it all aside, and do it all with as much style as you can."

Anyway, I'm not the only person who Geoghegan has impressed.  Here's Kathy G writing about canvassing for him, and Katha Pollitt and David Sirota and James Fallows and Rick Perlstein (author of Nixonland) even Mickey Kaus

Oh, and if you're having trouble spelling his name, you can also find his website at www.tom09.com

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