Blog » The Republican Hate Narrative Against Public Employees and Unions
Saturday, 19 February 2011 05:59

The Republican Hate Narrative Against Public Employees and Unions

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Let’s face it: Rich Republicans hate government workers. Actually, they hate all union workers too. For example, let’s take a close look at the state of Wisconsin, where multi-millionaire Governor Scott Walker is attempting to end collective bargaining while increasing the cost of state employees’ health care and pensions plans to the tune of $137 million. Why? In part the answer is to pay for the $140 million tax break he gave last month to the largest corporations, including that anti-union stalwart, Wal-Mart. But it is also fueled by his hatred of public employees and unions. And he is not alone. Walker's move to crush the unions and further demonize state workers is, of course, also heartily endorsed by fellow multi-millionaire Speaker of the House John Boehner, who released a statement commending Walker for “daring to speak the truth about the dire fiscal challenges Americans face at all levels of government."

The truth? Really? The only truth Boehner recognizes is how many Benjamins it takes to buy his well-tanned rich man’s complicity in the largest budget scam ever perpetrated against the American worker.

Cutting spending on all federal programs that promote the public good while cutting federal and state jobs during the Great Recession will do nothing more than put a small dent in the deficit while significantly deepening the divide between the have’s and have nots. It will also make our neighborhoods less secure and our schools less capable, as well as rob all of us who give a damn about a quality of life and the chance at an even playing field of our due.

These two notions—public access and a level playing field—are central to the American Dream. Both enabled by free access to good schools, public parks, and libraries, as well as to real news and information that is now pretty much limited to what we get from NPR and PBS. And need I mention that for many working people, the power of unions and the tools of collective bargaining are all that we have to leverage against the rich and oppressive 

Why must these programs be cut? Because millionaires don’t tax other millionaires. And, according to an investigative report in Mother Jones and verified by Forbes, billionaires pay them to make sure it stays that way. In Wisconsin’s case, those billionaires are the Koch Brothers.

I guess it is my bad to express any surprise. After all, Boehner is a guy who claims to be proud of his working class roots but shows no empathy for the unemployed, including his own brother. The Koch Brothers fund the Tea Party—whose working class members ought to now realize how cynically they are being used—in order to disrupt and dismantle government.

Like so many of the elected rich who cross over into the rarified air of Congress or the Presidency, which is to say who become the new best friends of the truly wealthy as well as highly effective corporate lobbyists, Boehner and others of his ilk are sustained not by a desire to see America prosper and all Americans to gain collectively as well as individually from our advances. They are instead sustained by greed and hate, two emotional states based on the same insidious insider narrative that blames everyone who works for a living and who makes less than $250K a year for not being rich.

After all, if we were rich, we would become Republicans. We would embrace a rich man’s—or rich woman’s—values. Which is to say we would understand that there is something wrong with people who don’t translate the freedoms and liberties, the low taxes and lack of government regulation of this great nation into vast personal wealth. We must be either stupid or lazy. It’s really that simple. We only have ourselves to blame.

It has taken me a long time to truly understand the inner workings of this hate narrative, or at least to see it as an expression of hatred. Oh sure, when I was young I saw clearly into the Nixon-era hypocrisy about rich Republicans “representing the working family.” I knew it was a ruse when rich Republicans, such as Ronald Reagan, claiming to be “one of the people,” went to Washington to do everything in his power to deny the people a fair wage, or health care, or pensions. And I never believed rich Republican George W. Bush’s phony fear-based patriotism nor thought for a moment that oil and corporate profits weren’t the real reasons we were going to war 

So, probably like you, I watched and complained and did nothing as Republicans of a certain income and status wasted $3 trillion of our public dollars on two wars that most Americans no longer supported and have long since abandoned understanding. I stopped paying attention to the costs and voted for a man who promised to end them. While I wasn’t paying attention and was instead working to elect that man, these same rich Republicans campaigned on pledges to not raise taxes to cover the expense of the wars, and instead, quietly lowered taxes on corporations (many of whom benefited from the wars) as well as on the wealthiest citizens who were invested in perpetrating them for their own economic and political advantage.

I hoped for audacious change and complained and did nothing as the core reason for why we invaded Iraq—the manufactured pretense of WMDs—became lost among the conflicting stories and rhetorical fog of nation-building and insurgencies and surges. Winning the “hearts and minds” of people became the new rallying cry, because, as Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs famously put it, “we can’t kill all of them.”

He was acknowledging that promoting democracy by force, by destroying countries and installing puppets like Karzai and Chalabi that were and are every bit as corrupt as the dictator Saddam Hussein we took down, that all that we “crusaders” were really accomplishing was a vast radicalization of Muslim youth and a steeling of the will of a now rich Republican-enabled global social movement called radical Islam.

Except, of course, that those newly rich Republicans who had invested in what Dexter Filkins calls “The Forever War” became astonishingly wealthy. They began believing their lack of paying taxes was an entitlement. Because they are rich. And, as we all know, being rich makes them better than you and me. They will continue to get wealthier as long as defense contracts flourish, the work of the military-industrial complex gets done, and no one in Congress or even our president has the guts to end their lucrative tax advantage. What that gross accumulation of war profit wealth does, in addition to buying whorish politicians and the ad agencies that ensure their reelection, is to further spread the hate narrative of the rich against the rest of us.

If I parse what they are saying correctly about us—and by “us” I mean all those who work as teachers, as police officers, as librarians, as public administrators, as food inspectors, as military personnel, as government bureacrats, and as fire fighters, just to name a few—we are just one class rung up on the rhetorical hierarchy from the unemployed in the rich Republican narrative of America.

Public employees. Two loaded words that are bitter pills on the tongues of the rich. Wage earners. Two more loaded words that cause the rich to sneer. Unions. A one-word expletive in their vocabulary of hate.

To them, those of us who aren’t rich are little more than the shiftless hobos of yore and the so-labeled “lazy” unemployed of now, and like all those old leftists with their empty cups held out for a free pour, we are dependent on the public trough not just for our livelihoods, but for our very lives. In their Emerald City estimation, if we really had a brain, really believed in capitalism and weren’t entirely lazy and/or lame, we would start our own small business, work hard, and become rich. Just click our heels!

I mean, how many speeches from the right have you heard extolling the virtues of small business owners? Every small business owner a King 

That’s not true, of course. Small businesses also fail. Small business owners are not universally successful. Nor are they even “small.” See this report from Media Matters for details of how rich Republicans and their Fox media mouthpiece spin it. You will learn that “small business” is a term that means whatever they want it to mean, from wealthy solo authors of novels to large corporations. Essentially, it is everyone who isn’t a public employee or a member of a union.

But “the successful small business” is part of the overall rich Republican narrative. It is the story they tell to cut off the small business owner from other workers, a story that elevates the former to the detriment of the latter. Like the previous appropriations “Joe the plumber,” and before that of “Joe six-pack,” or before him “The silent majority,” rich Republicans are very good at sustaining the illusion of being all for the small guy, who no doubt lives in a small town somewhere in an wholly imagined evangelical Christian Midwest and who, in today’s mediated surround, listens reverently to Rush and Glenn, watches Fox, and thinks when Sarah wears that red dress she is really something special.

But is that what most Americans believe? Or is it part of the Big Lie that has been so often repeated that we are afraid to contradict it? Put simply, do most of us working people really want the same things, the same budget cuts, that rich Republicans say we want 

According to a new Pew Center study, the answer is no. According to an analysis of that report by Bob Cesca:

“62 percent of Americans want to increase education spending. Only 11 percent want to cut education spending. Combined with those who want to leave education spending as-is, 87 percent support it. This massive disparity plays out all across the board. 71 percent of Americans want to increase or to continue health care spending at the same levels. Only 24 percent want to cut it. Only 26 percent want to cut spending on environmental protection. I can go on and on. Only 12 percent want to cut Social Security. Only 21 percent want to cut infrastructure. Only 23 percent want to cut scientific research. Only 28 percent want to cut unemployment benefits. Most of us embrace government spending, but we're afraid to admit it.”

The rich Republicans are liars. Spending cuts aren’t what we want. It is what they want.

The final element of the rich Republican narrative against public employees targets public colleges and public college professors. People like me. We are, they say, dangerous people. We are “elites.” We teach the young to challenge authority and to think critically for themselves. We promote a liberal agenda that includes equality for everyone, regardless of race, creed, color, class, or sexual orientation. They detest us. They ask: outside of business and engineering schools, what do we produce that actually is designed to make money? What good do we do? When was the last time anyone needed a “perfessor” to answer any question they cared to ask? When was the last time those socialists in English departments taught the Holy Bible? And in Arizona, where I work, we have legislators who openly question why we are paying for something called “justice studies” or “women’s studies” or “Latino/Latina studies,” much less underwriting the tuition of illegal immigrants, single mothers, and the poor?

The audacity of these claims is exasperating. But that is not the real problem. As is the case with most elements of the rich Republican narrative, all the blather and foam is a deflection from what we should be paying attention to. And that is the Big Irony at the very heart of their hate narrative.

And what is that irony? It is only this: the Big Irony is that the rich aren’t the ones paying the taxes that support public employees, or union workers, or for the measures that promote the public good. The Republican rich have successfully transferred fiscal responsibility for everything from the wars they started for profit to the schools they wish would go away, to the already burdened backs of what’s left of the dwindling middle class and what is fast becoming the swollen ranks of the working poor.

That is the final insult and one that I hope all of us take personally. Unless we do take it personally, and vow to do something about it, we are the dupes, the rubes, the fools they want us to be. After all, their narrative of hate is a fat wad of spittle aimed squarely at our faces.

It is evident in the embodied attitude and the very real behavior of the rich Republicans toward everyone else, as evidenced by the huge cash reserves of corporations that do not create jobs and the “business as usual” attitude of Wall Street and the banks that do nothing to reverse the home mortgage crisis. It is the collective “fuck you!” in every vote launched by rich Republican politicians against the best interests of our country. It is the old story of a ruling plutocracy that we thought would never be tolerated in these United States. But we have. And so it is.

Normally I don’t rant. I’m more of a reasoned argument sort of guy. But thirty years of Republican propaganda has brainwashed too many people into believing that government is always bad, taxes are always bad, and regulations are always bad is unlikely to be turned around using cool reason alone.

You can’t reason with people who hate you.

What we can do is rise up and take back what we all have worked so long and so hard as loyal Americans to achieve. For the protesters in Madison, and for all of the protesters that will likely be forced into the streets in the coming months, I pledge my support. I want you to join with me in pledging your support. Moving our bodies into the streets, into the newspapers, into the meetings where decisions are being made. Acting, rather than watching others act for us on television.

I’m afraid that we are at a tipping point and unless we join together and fight against the tyranny of the rich together, the America that we will have left won’t be a nation, or a home, that we will want to live in.

And that is the hell of it. We will have blown the great American experiment that is our democracy. If that happens, shame on us all. 

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