Republican and Democratic presidential candidates spoke very different languages when they addressed the International Association of Fire Fighters annual meeting in Washington Wednesday.
Democrats -- specifically John Edwards, Chris Dodd and Hillary Clinton -- made promises about healthcare, pensions and increased funding for first responders, but they hammered home one thing above all: support for organized labor.
Edwards, himself famously the son of a millworker, was the most enthusiastic, proclaiming that "as long as I am alive and breathing I will walk picket lines with you and I will help you organize and I will stand with you because I believe in you!" Edwards also challenged the firefighters to assess carefully each candidate's commitment to labor rights: "When they're not talking to you, do they talk about organized labor? When they're not talking to you, do they use the word 'union' and do they use it proudly?"
Several speeches later, Clinton announced, "When you plunge head first into burning buildings for a living, you've more than earned the right to bargain [collectively]," a line that brought the audience to its feet.
Though the IAFF is officially bipartisan, the union endorsed the Kerry/Edwards ticket early in the 2004 election cycle. Republican Sens. Sam Brownback, John McCain and Chuck Hagel were among the Republicans hoping to get into the union's good graces today, and though they spoke generously about the sacrifices made by those in the audience (McCain called firefighting an "honorable and gallant profession," while Brownback got his pro-life leanings in by praising the firefighters because they "fight for every life"), the mighty, mighty union was not part of their linguistic agenda.
Noticeably absent was former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose post-9/11 decision to scale back the search for bodies at ground zero launched him into a bitter dispute with the close-knit firefighting community. Giuliani accepted, then declined an invitation to speak at the event.