Glittering Generalities Belie Reality

By Michael Kaufman

Many years have passed since the term “glittering generalities” popped into my head. My old teachers often used the term to describe certain bad writing traits among their students. Now it seems as if those students are enjoying the last laugh. They write State of the Union speeches for the president and rebuttals to the State of the Union speech for his opponents. Some may see this as an improvement over vitriol but I’m not so sure.  At least vitriol can be highly specific and accurate at times.

The online dictionary site defines “glittering generalities” as “emotionally appealing words so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that they carry conviction without supporting information or reason. They appeal to emotions such as love of country, home; desire for peace, freedom, glory, honor, etc. They ask for approval without examination of the reason. They are a typically used by politicians and propagandists.” As Al Roller, my former managing editor used to say of the copy we churned out on behalf of pharmaceutical company-sponsored publications, “It’s beautiful. It says everything and it says nothing.”

But this is not a time to be speaking in platitudes that say nothing. President Obama’s State of the Union speech was a lot like Andrew Cuomo’s inaugural speech earlier this month. “At the end of the day, we’re all Americans,” said Obama, invoking the “American Dream” theme that has always been a crowd pleaser. Only now it wouldn’t play too well before a crowd of thousands of retired General Motors workers, who lost their pensions when the company was on the verge of collapse and did not get them back when the company was bailed out by taxpayers like themselves.

Nor would it play well to the thousands of Wyeth employees who lost their jobs after that pharmaceutical company was acquired by the giant Pfizer, which received millions from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) prior to the acquisition.

Then there are the 1,100 Whirlpool workers who lost their jobs at the Evansville, Indiana, plant last year when the company shut it down and moved operations to Mexico–after receiving $19 million in “smart grid” stimulus money. The company, which markets appliances around the globe under various brand names, was in no danger of failing. It just wanted to improve the profit margin for the shareholders. As Dave Johnson of the Campaign for America’s Future wrote at the time, “Whirlpool knows that taxpayers will shoulder the unemployment and other costs. Whirlpool employees aren’t the only ones losing their jobs…. Closing a plant like this also means all the supplier, transportation and other third-party jobs go away. More than 100 blind or disabled individuals could also be left jobless. The Evansville Association for the Blind has issued a public plea, asking businesses to consider using their employees.

“There will be more home foreclosures,” Johnson continued. The plant closing will put a strain on local businesses, perhaps even forcing some to close down, he noted. “Whirlpool is profiting from making all this someone else’s problem.”

When workers at the plant planned a rally to save their jobs, they received an ominous warning from management. “We have reminded the Local 808 leadership that the decision to close is final and is not under further consideration,” wrote Paul Coburn, director of operations, in a memo published on the front page of the plant newsletter. “In the last six months we have delivered strong results in spite of having to see a good deal of our equipment taken out of the building and moved to its new location. I believe that it is a testament to your character that you have continued to work hard to preserve the positive reputation of the Evansville workforce during this period. With this in mind, we have shared our concern with Local 808 leaders that these negative activities will only hamper employees when they look for future jobs.

“The entire community is aware and sympathetic towards the situation we all face. We fear that potential employers will view the actions of a few and determine whether they would want to hire any of Evansville Division employees in the future. We hope that this is not the case, but think it is certainly a consideration. Since the announcement, we have operated extremely well working together. We are trying to make this difficult situation better by providing a wide range of support including applying for and securing the TAA grant; offering TAA meetings on site; offering computer and refresher courses on site; counseling retirement age employees of their options; communicating as much information as we have on what to expect, and many other things.

“We are disappointed that Local 808 is not also focusing energies on the transition, where it will make a difference.  None of us like this situation, but at this time we have to make the best of it and take positive actions towards our future outside of Whirlpool.”

Our future outside of Whirlpool? While many of the Evansville workers are still collecting unemployment checks and searching in vain for new jobs, Coburn remains at Whirlpool, where he was recently promoted to Division Vice President. Such has become the American Dream.

Michael can be reached at


2 Responses to “Glittering Generalities Belie Reality”

  1. Mary Makofske Says:

    Bad enough to take the “smart grid” money and run, but threatening the laid off employees when they complain is over the top. Might we ask for that 19 million dollars to be returned?

  2. Michael Kaufman Says:

    I’m afraid that idea is as “off the table” as returning the lost pensions of the GM retirees. For further insight into the major weakness of the president’s address, see Robert Reich’s blog post, “The Elephant in the Room.” Here is the link:

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