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Valuing the American worker

by By JIM ELLIOTT
| August 1, 2023 7:00 AM

About once a year I deal with an outfit out of Boise called General Gear or tractorparts.com. I use them when I need parts to repair my crawler tractor which is almost as old as I am and a damn sight better looking.

It’s a 1952 Allis Chalmers HD 6B which has served me well over the 45 years I’ve owned it, both as a machine and an education.

So, when I need parts I go to General Gear. Miracle of miracles they have new parts for my machine. They also seem to have a philosophical bent which includes referencing articles about thoughtful topics.

The most recent one was called “Grimy Man Essay” and it was written by a fellow named Ralph Lienhard who teaches something at the University of Houston. It’s about a visit to a huge junkyard with his son to get parts for his 1978 Nova.

He talks about the beauty of a junkyard and the expertise and knowledge of the people who work there.

The closing paragraph is good: “The man [working] nearby moves quietly. He knows things most of us do not. He knows how machines work. He honors regeneration. He sees the beauty of function.

He can create in his mind and execute in the world. I can learn from these grimy men. They accept me for now — not as an equal, for I am not. But they know that I honor this place. And that is enough.”

“Well,” I thought, when I read it, “There is a lesson the Democrats need to relearn,” or maybe these days, just learn.

For years, Democrats were harping about the need for a college degree, and I was among them. People need one to get ahead, to get a good job, etc., etc., and still etc.

What did that say about how we felt about the working stiff? Put down your wrenches and chain saws and all that stuff and buy a clean shirt, go to college, and go forth and prosper.

I thought that was good advice until I saw what was actually within reach of kids from Trout Creek, and then I became a big fan of vocational education and fields such as linemen and carpenters and machinery repair and realized that these fields often paid more than jobs requiring college degrees and with a lot cheaper wardrobe.

That kind of thinking, mine included, seemed to place working people in a category that was a little bit lower, a little bit more menial than the jobs that take college degrees.

“Why do people keep voting against their own self-interest?” Democrats bemoaned, thinking that they knew what was in every worker’s self-interest, which was, of course, to vote Democrat. Democrats used to be the party of working people until suddenly they were the party of every special social group instead of working people, forgetting, I am sure, that the common thread that runs through every special social group is work.

And, somehow, because they lost track of that, Democrats seemed to give up on the working person and specialize on helping those of the special categories that we all know are important, but not to the exclusion of anyone else.

We used to, in America, talk about the dignity of work. I had a friend who in the 1960s went into a bar in Bend, Oregon for a drink, shook hands with the bartender who immediately noticed the lack of calluses on my friend’s hand. “You’re not workin’!” he exclaimed, and immediately offered his opinion as to where there were laboring jobs available for a strapping young fellow.

Democrats pay a lot of lip service to helping working people at the same time they don’t really seem to do much to really help them. Republicans do a lot of lip service too, and then go on to help the rich keep their money.

Whatever America’s laborers are, they are not dumb. They can tell how politicians think about them and they vote where they think their own self interests lie without any coaching. Don’t just respect people with grimy hands, value them.

Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.