Remember what TEA Party stands for: “Taxed Enough Already,” as if the members, self-righteous in their anger, have been taxed by evil government into personal penury, and they are “mad as hell, and not going to take it any more!” Such sentiments are the natural outcome of a 50+-year-long campaign by libertarians and disgruntled Hobbes-oriented conservatives to halt and roll back the social programs of John Locke-oriented liberals, i.e., meaning in general terms, that the misanthropes of the so-called right wing want to abolish the New Deal and most of the twentieth century’s development of the middle class.
What was a small stone rattling down the slope has turned into a roaring avalanche, accreting additional objectives as it grows, so that now it is not merely “entitlements” and “welfare” which are on the chopping block, it is the primacy of the federal government itself, including such things as the constitutionality of an income tax to fund it, and federal protection of civil rights, as well as, at the other end of the scale, the power of local jurisdictions to provide public services like roads, utilities, police and fire protection, even education. The wrecking crew has really and truly come to a town near you.
It is not as if we have not been warned, repeatedly, that “big government” was out of control, that all these transfer payments (i.e., social security), and the various do-good-feel-good government charities such as unemployment insurance or child health care or school lunch programs were going to bankrupt us. The theme has always been that any tax is a theft by government from productive citizens to give to ne’er-do-wells in order to buy votes—– that taking money from the private citizens is unproductive because it takes capital out of the hands of those who would otherwise use it to create jobs and produce useful things, and the longer this socialistic stealing continues the bigger the government deficits, and the greater the likelihood that the economy will collapse and/or the government will default on its debts. And see, the economy did collapse!
The theme has a certain truthiness, apparently, offering a compelling logic to those who consider themselves the take-ee, (the victim taxpayer) as against the take-er (big government). The victim taxpayer has been provided with a ready-made solution: shrink government and cut taxes, de-fund all those profligate programs, return control to us home folks free from Washington—- who needs all these frills? What better time to dismantle the jungle that is objectionable big government interference than now, during the economic downturn, when government tax receipts are way down?
The New York Times recently published a report by Michael Cooper on how some localities are dealing with their budget shortfalls, “Governments Go to Extremes as the Downturn Wears On.” Cooper tells us how the state of Hawaii closed all its schools for 17 consecutive Fridays in order to save money, forcing working parents either to stay home with their children, dump them on handy retired grandparents, or pay for child care; some parents were arrested for doing a sit-in at the Republican Governor’s office. He describes how Clayton County, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, cancelled its public bus service, stranding 8,400 daily riders who used the system to get to work; people who had been happy to have found a job at all around Atlanta, now had to quit work because their job had become inaccessible, and many began leaving the County to look for work elsewhere. Cooper’s final example is how Colorado Springs, Colorado, turned off one-third of its street lights, sold its police helicopters, and reduced its police force; the measures were actually approved by most of the population, which turned down a property tax increase in November because they wanted smaller government. Cooper points out that “services in many areas could get worse before they get better” because, “even with Congress set to approve extra stimulus aid” (almost universally opposed by Republicans in Congress) “some analysts say states are still facing huge shortfalls.”
The misery is far from over, in other words., and even The Wall Street Journal offered an example of cutbacks in “Return to the Stone Age,” describing how counties in North Dakota, Michigan, and Ohio, have broken up asphalt roads, returning them to gravel in order to save money, despite being warned that gravel roads are, in the long run far more expensive and harder to maintain than asphalt ones. Other sources report similar short-term “solutions” to strapped budgets, including selling state-owned liquor stores.
What we are seeing, says Glenn Greenwald in Salon.com is in fact a collapsing empire:
“As we enter our ninth year of the War in Afghanistan with an escalated force, and continue to occupy Iraq indefinitely, and see an endlessly growing Surveillance State, reports are emerging of the Deficit Commission hard at work planning how to cut Social Security, Medicare, and now even to freeze military pay…. Meanwhile, the tiniest sliver of the wealthiest—- the ones who caused these problems in the first place—- continues to survive.”
The United States, despite our conviction of American exceptionalism, is now no different from all the other under-developed banana republics of history: we are going through an “elite-caused financial crisis.” Most third world countries got into these problems through the incompetence and greed of their oligarchs—- so did we. Most countries eventually are helped out of their difficulties by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) once they impose brutal slash-and-burn policies on their entire social and economic system—- but so far IMF has not had the nerve, the chutzpah to tell America the truth. Up to now, of course, we have followed those banana republics in bailing out the oligarchs and squeezing the little guys, and we seem bent on continuing this malicious punishment by attacking social security and basic government functions which serve and protect the 99 percent of the population that is not in the oligarchy.
What strikes me here is that this current crisis has in fact been caused deliberately by these financial oligarchs, as an attempt to wring more wealth from the general population (and get the pesky government off their backs), but it got out of hand, and took down the entire world’s financial house. So here we are, a collapsing empire that is locked in a vicious cycle, unable even to talk about what is really wrong, and, therefore, not likely to get out of the mess because our political class has been co-opted by the oligarchy, and one party in particular is hell-bent on destroying our government in order to enhance the power of the oligarchs. Simon Johnson, writing last year in The Atlantic called this hijacking of the American government a “Quiet Coup.” I’ll pursue that thought in another article coming up.