Since taking office, a host of new Republican governors and legislatures have launched a concerted attack on workers’ rights. They seek to dismantle labor unions — workers’ primary avenue of political influence.
As Progressives have learned to expect, the corporate news media — with the occasional exception of MSNBC — have allowed these politicians and other advocates of these policies to set the agenda for their coverage. By doing so, they forfeit the public’s right to serious investigative coverage of one of the most serious issues voters confront today: budget deficits.
While conservative groups have engaged in a firestorm of anti-labor sentiments, bewilderingly directed primarily at teachers, progressive news outlets like Commondreams.org and Democracy Now! have lit up with a near-constant stream of articles advocating the repeal of tax cuts for the hyper-rich.
In the face of severe budget deficits and the subsequent cuts to seemingly every program that benefits people, I am wholly flabbergasted that this option has been kept off the table in much of the media coverage.
Writing for The New York Times in 2003, Paul Krugman argued persuasively — and presciently — that conservative interest groups and their corporate bankrollers have been working ceaselessly and intelligently to alter the function of the U.S. government.
Working through think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and by funding research and professorships at universities, the conservative movement has, in what seems a grand coup of marketing, inserted into the public consciousness the idea that taxing the rich hurts the economy. To anyone who believes this myth, the idea of raising anyone’s taxes in a time of deep economic turmoil would seem absurd.
In the legislative realm, Conservatives have accomplished much of their work through a thinly-veiled lobbying club known as the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. The club is extremely secretive, and its only members are a select group of Republican legislators and any corporation willing to pay the group’s steep dues.
ALEC receives more than 80 percent of its operating funds from corporations. This money is used to host conferences in which corporate members and their lawyers meet privately with politicians to draft legislation they will then introduce to their legislatures.
Despite the high concentrations of money involved and large numbers of Republican politicians meeting at these conferences, ALEC’s activities are not considered lobbying — an activity that would void its non-profit status — nor are its records available to the public, as Wisconsin’s open meetings laws would likely demand.
Krugman suggests that one of the salient goals of all this activity has been to create precisely the situation Wisconsin and many other states are facing right now. By cutting taxes on the largest concentrations of wealth — benefit No. 1 for those behind the movement — they have slowly eroded the tax base available for social welfare programs.
During the decades since these tax cuts began to take effect, politicians have still been subject to the demands of the labor vote. Thus, social welfare spending continued and sometimes increased, while the money available to fund it grew ever tighter. Huge tax cuts under Presidents Clinton and Bush, and the continued tax policies under Obama, coupled with the latter’s large corporate giveaways, have accelerated the situation, bringing to pass the fiscal crisis the conservative movement sought.
Republicans in Congress are attacking programs that serve the public good, like NPR and PBS, Planned Parenthood and Federal Pell Grants, while state governments are steamrolling public unions. Krugman accurately points out that such programs are too popular to be cut without serious fiscal legitimation.
If we aren’t successful in standing up as citizens and demanding a fair, legitimate solution to our state and federal budget problems, then programs with widespread public support will eventually be on the chopping block: Social Security, public education and public health insurance such as BadgerCare.
Proposing such cuts could incite public unrest heretofore unseen in the U.S. However, these proposed cuts will inevitably be passed unless their funding is restored by serious changes to our present tax policy.
Our nation is thus at a crossroads: By repealing tax cuts on the hyper-rich, we could begin to erode the vast wealth inequality that paralyzes our economy and leaves most of our society to rot. Alternatively, we could be forced to eliminate social safety net programs that protect some 50 percent of the country from downturns in our increasingly unstable economy. Doing so would leave them almost entirely at the mercy of their corporate employers — benefit No. 2 for those behind the movement.
In light of this history, republican anti-union rhetoric seems overtly malicious, while the wiser path forward is readily apparent. Now is the moment to act, to turn the political tide towards the public good.
While I am confident in my understanding of politics, I recognize that as it is a contentious issue outside of my academic sphere, I must be wary of the traps of ideology and bias. To foster more rigorous debate on these important issues, I would encourage anyone interested in expressing their viewpoint to write publicly to The Lawrentian.