Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya….who could imagine they would freak out in Wisconsin?
Actually, Wisconsin is one of the more likely powder kegs in the US , a state with a traditionally progressive voter base (the birthplace of the Progressive Party, after all!) that woke up after the last election to discover it had been taken over by Tea Partiers. Sure, there are states with a more radical tinge to them, like California and Vermont, but both of those states rejected the Republican invitation to self-immolation.
Tea Party governor Scott Walker’s budget proposals, likely to pass in the state’s now-Tea Party dominated legislature, represented a giant step backwards for many of the state’s residents. As Hannah Arendt observed in her classic book On Revolution, revolutions tend to occur not when the poor are oppressed to the breaking point, but when the middle class, which had something, senses that it is losing its privileges.
Walker’s credibility was tarnished when he got “punked,” as they say these days, into believing that he was conversing with David Koch, when he was actually talking to Ian Murphy, a blogger from Buffalo, New York. The “confidential” twenty-minute conversation revealed that Walker planned to use layoffs of state workers as a tool to push for getting his way, and also captured him agreeing to quid quo pro arrangements with “David Koch.” Both are illegal under Wisconsin ethics laws–but the state Attorney General is a Republican, so don’t hold your breath.
Since conservative pranksters had been responsible for at least two well-publicized media stunts–the “how do we start a whorehouse?” ACORN video and the spurious trashing of Shirley Sherrod, Republicans could hardly complain about it when one of their own got fooled. Unlike Republican efforts, Murphy didn’t have to edit their conversation in order for Walker to make a fool of himself. While Walker claimed that the tape didn’t reveal anything he hadn’t said in public, it did. Beyond the potential ethics violations, Walker fantasized about “taking a baseball bat” to his political opponents. A Deputy Attorney General in Indiana who suggested using live ammunition against the protesters in Wisconsin was fired; why should it be any different for a governor who threatens violence against peaceful demonstrators?
This just in: the same so-called “conservative” who trashed ACORN recorded NPR exec Ron Schiller saying that
public opinion is driven by “this very large uneducated part of the population.”
“(Tea Partiers). believe in sort of white, middle-America, gun-toting. I mean, it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”
All of that’s true enough, but apparently telling the truth is enough to get you in trouble these days. People don’t want to hear the truth. It’s too hard on their precious, threatened egos and lifestyles. Republicans hope to use this to cut NPR and PBS out of the federal budget, which will save each of us $1.43 a year. Don’t let the prospect of so much additional wealth go to your head! Defense spending, meanwhile, is costing each of us $3,000 a year, but that’s sacrosanct. As so often happens, I digress….there are a million stories on the Naked Planet.
The day-to-day drama of this struggle is fascinating, but let’s take a few steps back from the crowd and get a feel for the big picture.
Much has already been made in the media of the connection between organized labor’s support of the Democratic Party and Republican efforts to destroy union power as a way to undercut the Democrats. Plenty of commentators have also pointed out that unions have shifted over the last several decades from a blue-collar to a more white-collar demographic. I would like to take this one step further. The Republican propaganda machine is whipping up public sentiment against teachers and state employees because they still enjoy the lifestyle and perks that many Americans have lost as the country has been de-industrialized (and de-unionized) over the last several decades. In other words, the party of “Christian values” is promoting anger, greed, and envy to bring down the last remaining bastion of middle-class America. Nice work, guys. I’m sure Jesus would be proud of you.
At the same time, right-wingers have been horrified by any suggestions, such as Michael Moore‘s, that there might be something wrong with the fact that the wealthiest 40 Americans have more resources at their disposal than the bottom fifty percent. Yeah, that’s forty people (OK, plus their families) put together who are wealthier than a hundred and fifty-five million of us . From the Tea Party perspective, it’s class warfare to point that out, but somehow it’s not class warfare when conservatives work to destroy public health care for those who can’t otherwise afford it, unions, community organizations like ACORN, or public service organizations like Planned Parenthood.
Can you say “doublethink,” boys and girls? Ever wonder how a scenario like Orwell’s 1984 could possibly come to pass? We may be living it, if things don’t fall apart first.
While I would be the first to admit that middle-class American expectations are, considered on a global scale, immoderately luxurious, it is simply not fair for the wealthy to insist that the middle class take a hit so that the upper class can continue its even more immoderately luxurious lifestyle. All of us here in America need to come down a few pegs. As with climate change, the problem will not go away if the Tea Partiers succeed in muting the nation’s conscience. It will return to haunt us again and again, more and more forcefully.
“You can have my money and my guns when you rip them from my cold, dead fingers.” That’s the deal you want? That’s the deal you’ll get.
And where has Obama been during all this? If he were really a socialist firebrand, as the right-wing media love to assert, he would have been in Madison, addressing the rally and reclaiming the base that elected him in 2008. But no, Obama was nowhere near Madison. His staff instructed the Democratic National Committee to back off efforts to support the Madison demonstrators, wile he offered tepid words of encouragement, similar to his pronouncements on the revolution in Egypt and the ongoing revolt in Libya, similar to the way Bush I encouraged the Iraqis to revolt against Saddam and then did nothing while Saddam slaughtered them. No, Obama’s allegiance is not to the people, his allegiance is to them that bought him.
It’s not clear to me where this movement is going, but I see a couple of possibilities.
If the protesters’ energy ebbs and the anti-populists, the Republican Tea Partiers, prevail, America will slip further into being a two-tier society. We will be less organized, less flexible, less able to meet the challenges that will shake us harder and harder as time goes on.
If the protesters prevail, then they will, to a certain extent, be in the position of the dog that chased cars and actually caught one. There will be plenty of difficult decisions to make, and no “other” to blame for poor outcomes and unintended consequences. Reinstating the business taxes that Governor Walker abolished in order to create his “fiscal crisis” justification for ending collective bargaining, will, in all likelihood, discourage business, if only because Republican business owners will get mad and find ways to avoid paying taxes. Freedom to keep all the money you make is, after all, at the head of the list of Tea Party freedoms, right up there with the freedom to ignore compassion, facts, and logic in the interests of having things your way.
So, I certainly stand with the Wisconsin protesters to the extent that I don’t want to see the wealthy win this battle in the class war. But I can’t, in all honesty, join them in “defending the American dream.” The American dream is built on the backs of millions of people in the third world who cannot have a decent life because we need their poverty to support our wealth. We need to wake up from the American dream, but we need to all wake up from it. The majority of Americans should not be made to suffer more so that the wealthiest one percent can keep on dreaming. It’s time to share the pain.
Music: James McMurtry, “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore“