Monday, February 28, 2011


Why are we so surprised?

Years ago in the campaign for proposition 13 the sainted Howard Jarvis told us that his goal was to reduce the revenue available to politicians.  Having less money, they would do less.  There'd be less annoying and costly regulation of business.  Besides, people should pay directly for the services they receive and not depend on government to provide them.  People should pay to use libraries, just like they pay to visit museums.  Parents should pay for their children's educations.  All of these services should be provided by private enterprrise.  Private businesses are more efficient than government.  Etc., etc., etc.

This philosophy of government did not originate with Mr. Jarvis.  It's an old idea, one cherished by Republicans for ages.  One of President Gerald Ford's favorite sayings was "government spends too much money."  An early advocate of "small" government was a business man who, about 1929, wrote an article complaining about how government regulations was costing his business too much money.  He didn't care about the size of government.  He simply wanted it to leave him alone.

The behavior of recently elected Republican governors and legislators indicates that their primary concern is not the size or strength of government but rather a government that will support the aspirations of their wealthy backers.  Governor Walker did not reduce the revenue of the government of Wisconsin to bring about "small" government.  His intent all along was to make Wisconsin a State hospitable to manufacturers by reducing the wages of workers.  To do that requires destroying labor unions.  He is starting with  the public employee unions.

We liberal progressives seem to have been caught off guard.  We are astonished and unbelieving that a governor could be so calculating as to produce a budget problem, then use that problem to attack the civil servants of the State.  But think back a few years.  When Bill Clinton left office, the federal revenue exceeded federal expenditures.  The national debt was being paid down.  One of George Bush's first accomplishments was to engineer a sustantial tax reduction.  Most of the benefits went to the wealthiest taxpayers.  The government has been running a deficit ever since.  Republicans are now using this deficit to justify their attacks on Social Security, Medicare, support for National Public Radio, and expansion of health care.  They're not talking about reining in the Defense budget or about letting Bush's tax cuts expire and going back to Clinton's tax rates.

We thought that the elections of 2006 and 2008 had put away these aspirations of some Republicans.  We shifted our attention to other matters, such as ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, extending the rights of marriage to gays and lesbians, providing true universal health care in California, and providing public funding for election campaigns.  Now we face the task of fighting for workers' rights.  It's as though we were living in the year 1911, not 2011.

We haven't been paying enough attention to our political enemies.  We've ignored the evidence of a wise man who believed in keeping his friends close and his enemies closer.

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