A Feb. 28 editorial cartoon by the Detroit News' Henry Payne appeared on the editorial page of my hometown newspaper this morning that, to my way of thinking, summed up the Republicans' overarching philosophy.
In it, two Union Thugs (TM) at a rally carry a sign that says IMPEACH THE GOVERNOR. One says to the other "This is just like the Mideast Street Protests ... except we're the entrenched unelected bureaucrats clinging to power!"
Ha ha...very funny...
... except that in his typically ham-fisted style, Payne illustrates the way the Tea Party Republicans feel about everyone (except, one is free to assume, individuals in the military) that holds a government job. Teachers, you are unelected, entrenched bureaucrats. Sanitation workers lording their lifestyles over us all; policemen, firemen and other first responders, get off your asses and earn our votes! Food inspectors, get out of the way, because we're hungry and you're slowing down the slop bucket.
The villification of government workers is so pervasive in the Republican Party that they don't even consider throwing you out of work as a contributor to the problem of unemployment. It isn't "job-killing" governance when they throw 400,000 of you out of a job, it's "fiscal responsibility". If you're not working to advance yourself financially, choosing instead a life of under-remuniated public service, then you don't count! Teaching in a public school for 37 years -- that's entrenched.
My dad is pretty conservative...borderline racist, xenophobic, etc...you know, dad. He retired from the USDA, where he worked long, difficult hours with local farmers to improve the retention of their topsoil through the implementation of a variety of techniques developed in connection with a whole other group of entrenched, unelected bureaucrats, the state's land-grant university and its county extension service. My mom spent the better part of her career in county government, entrenched, you might say, in the bowels of the county health department, where she helped direct the sad, indigent tellers of the most horrific stories about their eating dirt, misunderstanding of the reproductive process and generally living hand-to-mouth, to whatever healthcare that might be available to them free of charge or at reduced rates.
Bureaucrats...the word conjures up, for me, piles of burdensome paperwork, rows of filing cabinets and the daily office grind. What is all that stuff, your medical records or something? Documentation of your utter poverty? Evidence?
Republicans want the government shut down. They don't care how many people get thrown out of a paycheck...they shouldn't be getting them anyway, as unelected, as entrenched and as bureaucrats. Here in my state, there is a recognition that the state government doesn't have any money, and so the solution is not to raise additional revenue -- raising the $300 sales cap tax on $4M yachts and $50,000 cars, taxing cigarettes and alcohol at higher rates to help cut into other of our crushing societal ills or anything of that nature. Hell, the Nikki Haley administration wants to cut all corporate income taxes, as well, because, you know, they just pass that on to the consumer anyway. In fact, outgoing philanderer Mark Sanford insisted that improvements in efficiency that resulted in a revenue gain had to be OFFSET by tax cuts, because more money coming in would, I suppose, just add to the problem of not having enough money to maintain the current levels of service.
"But I thought the problem was not enough money coming in," you may say.
No. Reagan read his script, and they all committed the logion to memory: "Government isn't the solution to the problem. Government IS the problem."
We have elected people to run government that don't believe in its power to reflect the collective will of the people that consent to be governed. Not only do they reject the notion that people CAN work together to solve the problems that affect them, they don't believe people SHOULD work together for any reason except perhaps extracting enough money out of the flow to live more expensively.
No, Henry Payne, the union protesters in Wisconsin aren't like the minions of the various Middle Eastern dictators and strongmen that we've been propping up for decades. They're regular Americans with regular, difficult jobs, jobs that the wealthy corporate establishment conservatives you champion with your little drawings rarely have the opportunity to even consider in their day-to-day lives.
I suppose that living in such a dream state, disconnected from even the thought of whether your food was inspected, or your home's construction was by licensed individuals, whether the bridge up ahead will collapse when the 18-wheeler in front of you drives across it or whether your feces will be successfully carried into the nearest flowing body of water, makes life more enjoyable than considering prospect that you might come face-to-face with some horrifying reality.
Over the last several days, I've heard two or three accounts of when it all fell apart in America. When The Mill Closes Down, a program I watched with my wife last night, traced the disappearance of the once-thriving textile industry from South Carolina's backcountry landscape, where the huge factories were the central feature in dozens of towns from Seneca to Union, Graniteville to the capital, Columbia. Ghost towns like Cateechee and Newry dot the landscape, just down the road from dilapidated mill villages like Pacolet and Lockhart, still clinging to a dying tax base of elderly hangers-on, body shop owners and convenience store clerks.
People don't talk much about the 1934 massacre of six picketing mill workers, shot in the back by private security as they fled the picket lines at Honea Path's Chiquola Mill. There isn't much more to say about the closing of Avondale Mill in Graniteville, one of the few operations that continued to thrive into the current generation before a chlorine gas spill resulting from a 2005 train derailment rendered the facility unusable and put most of the town out of work. The mill's owners recently accepted a $215 million insurance settlement and a lawsuit is pending against Norfolk Southern Railroad, but dozens of families are out of work, out of money, out of insurance and out of luck. They're all down there hoping Augusta, Ga. and Aiken sprawl enough that they'll need another Wal-Mart and slew of fast-food joints in the suburbs.
When did it all start to disappear? According to the people in the film, as near as they can recall, the textile industry really started down its last leg in the late 1970s, early 1980s. That same timeframe was mentioned again this morning, in a report on NPR's On Point,on the transformation of Chicago from being a manufacturing, meat packing and blue collar commercial powerhouse to being a financial services and commodities headquarters. The early 80s.
What fundamental change took place in the early 1980s that might have caused such seismic shifts in America's economic infrastructure? The rejection of Jimmy Carter, seen as weak and ineffectual in dealing with the worst the world had to offer at the time, in favor of Ronald Reagan, a Hollywood B-movie actor in the role of a lifetime. Reagan oversaw not just the beginning of the dismantling of America's working middle class, but the vilification of it. Government was the problem, government workers were all incompetent obstacles to the efficient machinations of the market and people that were willing to throw themselves on the cogs of those machines in order to secure quality lives for themselves became the new face of greed. Those Wall St. crooks over there at Studio 54 in their money-stuffed suits, the cocaine still visible on their upper lips, they're the solution.
We haven't just lost Main St. and Mill St. We've cheered their demise, not wanting to be the lintheads, the assembly-line workers, the teachers and first responders. We've figured out how to make college an expensive way to get to where high schoolers once were and a path to a lifetime of debt for those that choose to try to get there on their own, without the benefit of wealthy parents or scholarships.
What we've given up on in the process, government workers and even governance itself, we've been conditioned to believe, over the last 30 years, is "the problem." I strongly suspect, however, that these entrenched, unelected bureaucrats, so despised and vilified by the Republican establishment, think more highly of their contributions to our society than those who'd now see them thrown out of a job for insisting on being represented as a group at the negotiating table. How long until the Republicans reduce unemployment by simply redefining it to exclude government workers? After all, those aren't Real Jobs anyway...just ask John Boehner.
Then bounce the idea off of your local school teacher and see what she says. You used to think what she says is important...