Republicans have long championed the discredited ideas of the late Milton Friedman, a conservative economist who argued that the country is much better off economically if citizens are "free to choose." Sounds great, but in the real world, Republicans are busy reducing your choices even as they insist they're busy protecting your right to choose.
As in health care, for instance. Would you rather have an operation that forces you into bankruptcy, or would you rather die young? See, that's a choice you're free to make, absent health care reform. And then there's that pesky-to-Republicans choice issue concerning whether a woman has the right to control her own body. Yes, say too many in the modern GOP. She can either go to an anti-abortion clinic for a negative opinion, or she can have an invasive ultrasound test. Choice!
Then there's the Republican bill in the US House of Representatives to turn the government student loan program back over to the for-profit “free market” that ran the national economy into the ground just five years ago. The scheme would reset the student loan rate every year, a move critics said would eventually double the current interest rate. Ah, but students would be free to choose which private lender would offer them a usury loan. This is a good thing according to Republicans, who say, philosophically speaking, that banks ought to do lending, not government, even if banks have proved quite rapacious lending to students in the past.
The latest example of this bait-and-switch brand of "we choose, you comport" politics comes courtesy of Wisconsin State Representative Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), a suburban conservative who apparently has decided that a University of Wisconsin student group looks way too much like a labor union; because, you know, it represents a constituency that, um, doesn't always agree with Republicans. He just helped push a measure -- strangely attached to the pending state budget bill -- that is likely to remove most of the student group's non-state funding, just like the state GOP earlier enacted Gov. Scott Walker's union-busting bill, which has had the effect of taking private membership dues away from most of the state's public employee unions.
Of the GOP's new move, aimed at UW's multi-campus United Council of Student Governments, Kooyenga crooned: "It probably looks like a political hit, and that didn't help, but I am just philosophically opposed to charging people fees for things they don't support."
Really, sir? I beg to differ. To find out why, read on below the cloud of backroom cigar smoke.
If Rep. Kooyenga thinks citizens shouldn't be charged for public or private programs they don't support, then why am I and other State of Wisconsin taxpayers forced to pay for all sorts of unwise, unthrifty, socially and economically harmful programs and tax breaks that we don't support? I refer to often draconian policies Kooyenga and other Wisconsin's ruling GOP has imposed recently that tend to benefit businesses and wealthy individuals, and especially the mining deregulation law which harm the state's natural environment, all at the expense of the vast majority of Wisconsin residents. And then there's Kooyenga's own new state tax plan, which some analysts say will heavily cut state taxes on the most comfortable while leaving the most afflicted -- including much of the working class -- in serious discomfort, thanks to earlier cuts in services that Walker Republicans imposed upon them. [Once more, for the record: Trickle-down Reaganomics doesn't work; even Ronald Reagan abandoned that scheme, eventually.]
Kooyenga is also the guy who decided he doesn't want even a cent of his utility bill spent on a pending, federally funded, Milwaukee streetcar project. Even though the project uses no state dollars, Kooyenga introduced a proposed state law to ban the possibility of the city charging utility companies.
This ever-so-thoughtful law is aimed at exactly one project out of thousands involving transportation projects in Wisconsin. Never mind that other road-based projects across the state in fact sometimes require re-routing of utility lines within what is, in Republican politics, an increasingly theoretical public right of way. Those costs typically have been borne by utility customers. But Kooyenga, like many of his fellow Republicans who depend on big campaign donations from highway construction companies, doesn't like the streetcar project, so he's trying to see to it that he shouldn't have to contribute to it, even only slightly and indirectly. And the best he can do is suggest that since he isn't going to ride the streetcar, he shouldn't have to pay for it.
Well, hey, Rep. Kooyenga: I don't like the way West Bluemound Road going through your district is, thanks to state dollars, turning into a quasi-freeway, a huge eyesore and environmental catastrophe that has only encouraged wasteful sprawl in metro Milwaukee. I think the road is more than big enough already. So, following your example, and since I don't live in your heavily red suburb, I insist you back a law protecting me and most other state residents from having to pay any state taxes or utility fees to further expand and maintain that street. Let City of Brookfield property tax payers take care of that. Because, to employ your own argument, many of the rest of us are philosophically opposed to being charged for things we don't support.
Actually, that part above in boldface is just a thought experiment, I am, in fact, annoyed with Bluemound Interstate Highway, er, I mean Road, but, horrendous though this endless, strip-malled thoroughfare has become, I realize that, overall, the greater good of the entire populace requires that some of the dollars we contribute to public services and programs are, just like union dues or student fees, often are only going to benefit some of us, sometimes, and not always directly. Nevertheless, well-considered projects and programs often are beneficial to those who don't directly gain.
So we shouldn't base political decisions on whether most Wisconsin residents never drive down Kooyenga's residential street or aren't aggrieved college students or don't like flu shots. It's not a perfect world. But we need to continue striving for balance.
Democracy, you see, requires real debate and reasoned compromise, along with diverse voices from a multiplicity of interest groups. If we are indeed better off by being free to choose, we need to have real choices, and one size certainly does not fit all. But Kooyenga and his pals in the GOP apparently can't figure this out. Or, more likely, they do understand it but are just rationalizing their overriding modus operandi, namely: Always punish opponents and reward backers. Especially financial backers.
After all, Kooyenga's antipathy toward the United Council of UW Student Governments is rather more nuanced than his above-stated philosophy. The legislature's GOP-dominated Joint Finance Committee this week voted to make it much harder for the council to receive the modest $3 per student fee that funds its work. The council is a student advocacy organization, the formal voice of the student body, and has argued among many other issues for lowering university tuition. Other Republicans joined with Kooyenga in voting to do just that, but then also decided to effectively kill the messenger, i.e., the council. Because, you see, since the advent of Karl Rove-style GOP politics, messaging is everything, and nobody but Republicans should be sending out any messages. That would be too ... unsettling.
As the GOP achieved earlier with Wisconsin's public employee unions, this voluntary dues requirement will up-end the way in which student fees to support the United Council are collected. The GOP move would make the fee sent to the council entirely voluntary, with students opting in to pay it, rather than having it collected automatically.
Just like the unions, the council's representation of students on numerous UW campuses is based on majority votes by students in favor of the effort. And just like the Walker-confined public employee unions, students who opt out of contributing to support the council's operations would still benefit from its accomplishments. They would, in effect, be getting something for nothing, an outcome Republicans profess to hate but once again are busy enabling, in this case to neutralize a potential political opponent.
Somehow, GOP lawmakers including Kooyenga managed to have two brains on the matter, saying this move wasn't political even as they were criticizing the council's efforts to inform politicians of issues on behalf of students -- even as those lawmakers were voting in favor of one of the council's key recommendations! So the jig is up: What this is really all about is who has some power and who has a voice in public policy. And, evidently, in the minds of guys like Kooyenga, power and messaging should belong exclusively to Republicans.
In short: You're free to choose, just so long as you choose Republican. Booyah, Kooyenga! But tell ya what, Dale: I'd like to opt out of paying your state legislator salary. Because I am philosophically opposed to you and your GOP wrecking crew.