Henry is a carpenter from New York. He is Italian-American, and speaks with a thick “Noo Yawk” accent. He was at one time, in the 70s, a union carpenter in the City, and earned $29 an hour, with full health benefits and a pension. Still, in New York, even then, it was tough as the kids kept coming. He bought a home on Long Island, with the aid of HUD, but when the incivility and decline of the greater Big Apple really set in, in the 80s, Henry uprooted his growing family -he ended up with ten children- and moved to Asheville, North Carolina.
There, in a “Right to Work” state, he could not find a union job, and his wages were cut by more than half.
With no health care or retirement benefits.
Desperate, he pounded nails by day and laid concrete by night, working his ass off. Eventually this overwork resulted in multiple physical problems, and ultimately, disability.
In spite of his hard work, Henry and his family ended up depending on food stamps, and often had to choose between going to the doctor and putting gas in the car.
Henry spoke of the decline of wages for the working class since the 70s, of the pressures that financial strife brought to his marriage, of the frustration of a hardworking man finding it hard to make ends meet. He asked why, if the Republican Party is pro-family, they could promote policies that were indifferent to working class and poor people, that resulted in the sort of economic disparity that has come to characterize modern America. He noted the difficulties of establishing stable families without a living wage, citing several studies. He recalled the film “It’s a Wonderful Life”, with its populist (and Catholic) ideas about the aspirations of the working class.
I heard Henry on the Michael Medved radio talk show, driving home from work. Henry was possibly the most intelligent and articulate caller to a talk show that I have ever heard.
Michael Medved, while I do not agree with him about much, is heads and shoulders above his fellow conservative talk show hosts not only in intelligence but in courtesy. I have never heard him, for example, shout someone down or interrupt them. He was impressed by this man, and waxed sentimental about his own working class grandfather, a Jewish immigrant from Russia. And while Michael Medved is considerably more moderate than many of his fellow Republicans, he is in the end a free marketeer. But I sensed that he knew better than to challenge Henry, who possessed an authenticity and credibility born of hard-won experience. Like any well-read and well-spoken worker, Henry commands a certain respect. Mr Medved only gently chided him: “So, what do you think can be done to help people like you?”
Henry began by saying that his boss had contracted to frame a $5 million dollar home for “a famous actress, Andie… no, I won’t use her name…”
Andie McDowell, one of my favorite actresses, of course lives in Asheville.
The contractor had submitted a bid of $150,000 to do the work. The counteroffer was $100,000, which, lest he be underbid, he accepted.
The rich, Henry said, should remember the golden rule, and the needs of workers and the poor.
Henry may well have had more to say, expanding his thought from the personal to the political, but Mr Medved interrupted him for a commercial break.
When he came back Henry was gone.
Medved said “We have been talking with Henry from North Carolina about economics. You should take Hillsdale College’s online course ‘Economics 101’; would that Henry would take this course, too.”
Then he turned to another caller.
I was stunned. I don’t think I have ever heard another caller to a talk show challenge the host in such a way, nor one so eloquent, and Mr Medved acted very sympathetic while Henry was on the line.
But the moment he was off the air, the host plugged an online class from a right wing college- one permeated with Randian ideology (Ayn, not Paul, though I wonder what the difference is) – about the very thing that has raped the working class for the last forty years.
I rather think that Henry has more to teach Mr Medved, and the free market academics of Hillsdale College, than otherwise.
Oh, and here is how the Hillsdale website describes the course in question, which it dubbed “The Principles of Free Market”:
“If you’ve ever wanted to know just how the free market will save America’s economy, you NEED Hillsdale’s Economics 101 right away.
With 10 absolutely free weekly lectures you can view right on your computer at your own convenience—and weekly interactive Q&A sessions with Hillsdale’s top professors—Economics 101 will teach you all the nuts and bolts of free market capitalism.
If you think the Left’s government-down economic policy is all wrong for America, but can’t quite explain why, this crash course in free market economics is something that all true conservatives should take.
After you register you can find out how to get your own copy of “A Capitalist Manifesto”, written by Economics 101 hosting professor, Dr. Gary Wolfram, right away!”
Boy, I can’t wait to get my copy of “A Capitalist Manifesto”…
One does not generally listen to talk radio for intelligent conversation. Most often, all one can expect is the entertaining spectacle of some blowhard bloviating, or some knucklehead from the “other side” butting heads with the host. Henry the carpenter was a rare breath of fresh air.
Would that he had his own talk show…
Lord, have mercy. And God bless Henry the carpenter.