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The War on the Public Sector is On and We are in the Crosshairs

May 11, 2020

The battle is on in earnest. Recently, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said it out loud: drop dead blue states—and public sector workers in particularly.  More specifically, McConnell took a strong stand against providing any more financial relief to devastated states and local governments in the midst of a pandemic that has caused the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Instead, the Senate leader suggested, states should just consider bankruptcy.

In a moment of remarkable candor, McConnell outlined his view on a rightwing radio show.  As the New York Times reported:

“I think this whole business of additional assistance for state and local governments needs to be thoroughly evaluated,” Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said in an interview with the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations.”

Mr. McConnell’s comments were an explicit rejection of a top priority of Democrats who have pushed to spend tens of billions of dollars to help states. His staff members highlighted their partisan cast in a news release circulated a short time later, in which his statement appeared under the heading “Stopping Blue State Bailouts.” The phrase suggested that the top Senate Republican was singling out for scorn some of the hardest-hit, heavily Democratic states such as California, Illinois and New York.

The LA Times’ Michael Hiltzik did a fantastic take-down of McConnell’s absurd “blank check for blue states” rhetoric, pointing out that not only was it a predictable cheap shot at public employees who McConnell clearly doesn’t think deserve to have a reasonable retirement, but also a stunning bit of hypocrisy given the fact that it’s red states that get the most federal aid:

The truth is that red states — Republican states — have been consistently supported most by the federal government. According to the Tax Foundation, among the states ranking highest in terms of federal aid as a percentage of general state revenue are red states Montana (No. 1), Wyoming (2) and Mississippi (4). Among the biggest beggars at the federal almshouse is McConnell’s home state, Kentucky, which ranked eighth.

If that is not bad enough for you, consider that this pile of B.S. is coming from the man responsible for pushing through the Trump tax cuts, which borrows around $2 trillion from future generations, as well as the first round of Coronavirus relief bills with little accountability and oversight that has allowed the rich and large corporations to pull in billions of dollars in tax savings and bailouts while smaller businesses and individual workers are struggling to obtain federal aid.   It is, in a word, obscene.

It should now be clear to everyone where we are in America.

The ruling party in the White House and Senate are ready to demonize their fellow citizens even as they suffer and/or serve the public in the midst of one of the biggest crises in our country’s history in order to divide and conquer and hold power so they can serve the affluent at any cost.  Make more people sick, punish immigrants, screw workers, bankrupt half the country, and create economic devastation that will last for years to come in the service of craven self-interest.

The contrast between the depraved nature of the present and the ethos of the New Deal era could not be starker.  If the spirit of the FDR era was that the comfortably rich needed to pay their fair share to serve the greater good (they didn’t want to then either), the zeitgeist of our moment seems to be “go back to work and die.”  We’ve traded solidarity forever for solidarity, never!

Ideologically, the American right has long sought to starve the beast (of big government) until it was small enough to drown in a bathtub, but one might have thought there were at least some limits to their zealotry.

But now, even when it’s clear as day that we need a much better, collective response to a threat that could kill scores more of us and eviscerate the economic health of ordinary Americans, the best the right has to offer is a solution that would gut education, ravage social services, endanger public safety, and menace public health.

It appears that America is in the midst of some kind of end game.  Let’s hope it involves throwing those who would toss us away out of office in November and pivoting to a more just, sustainable future rather than continuing to slouch towards the dark, dystopian path of pitiless oligarchy that McConnell has to offer.

By Jim Miller, AFT 1931 VP


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