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The Republican strategy

Robert Reich, professor of public policy | February 18, 2011

The Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class — pitting unionized workers against non-unionized, public-sector workers against non-public, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don’t believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class.

By splitting working America along these lines, Republicans want Americans to believe that we can no longer afford to do what we need to do as a nation. They hope to deflect attention from the increasing share of total income and wealth going to the richest 1 percent while the jobs and wages of everyone else languish.

Republicans would rather no one notice their campaign to shrink the pie even further with additional tax cuts for the rich — making the Bush tax cuts permanent, further reducing the estate tax, and allowing the wealthy to shift ever more of their income into capital gains taxed at 15 percent.

The strategy has three parts.

The battle over the federal budget.

The first is being played out in the budget battle in Washington. As they raise the alarm over deficit spending and simultaneously squeeze popular middle-class programs, Republicans want the majority of the American public to view it all as a giant zero-sum game among average Americans that some will have to lose.

The President has already fallen into the trap by calling for budget cuts in programs the poor and working class depend on — assistance with home heating, community services, college loans, and the like.

In the coming showdown over Medicare and Social Security, House budget chair Paul Ryan will push a voucher system for Medicare and a partly-privatized plan for Social Security — both designed to attract younger middle-class voters.

The assault on public employees

The second part of the Republican strategy is being played out on the state level where public employees are being blamed for state budget crises. Unions didn’t cause these budget crises — state revenues dropped because of the Great Recession — but Republicans view them as opportunities to gut public employee unions, starting with teachers.

Wisconsin’s Republican governor Scott Walker and his GOP legislature are seeking to end almost all union rights for teachers. Ohio’s Republican governor John Kasich is pushing a similar plan in Ohio through a Republican-dominated legislature. New Jersey’s Republican governor Chris Christie is attempting the same, telling a conservative conference Wednesday, “I’m attacking the leadership of the union because they’re greedy, and they’re selfish and they’re self-interested.”

The demonizing of public employees is not only based on the lie that they’ve caused these budget crises, but it’s also premised on a second lie: that public employees earn more than private-sector workers. They don’t, when you take account of their education. In fact over the last fifteen years the pay of public-sector workers, including teachers, has dropped relative to private-sector employees with the same level of education – even including health and retirement benefits. Moreover, most public employees don’t have generous pensions. After a career with annual pay averaging less than $45,000, the typical newly-retired public employee receives a pension of $19,000 a year.

Bargaining rights for public employees haven’t caused state deficits to explode. Some states that deny their employees bargaining rights, such as Nevada, North Carolina, and Arizona, are running big deficits of over 30 percent of spending. Many states that give employees bargaining rights — Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Montana — have small deficits of less than 10 percent.

Republicans would rather go after teachers and other public employees than have us look at the pay of Wall Street traders, private-equity managers, and heads of hedge funds – many of whom wouldn’t have their jobs today were it not for the giant taxpayer-supported bailout, and most of whose lending and investing practices were the proximate cause of the Great Depression to begin with.

Last year, America’s top thirteen hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion each. One of them took home $5 billion. Much of their income is taxed as capital gains — at 15 percent — due to a tax loophole that Republican members of Congress have steadfastly guarded.

If the earnings of those thirteen hedge-fund managers were taxed as ordinary income, the revenues generated would pay the salaries and benefits of 300,000 teachers. Who is more valuable to our society — 13 hedge-fund managers or 300,000 teachers? Let’s make the question even simpler. Who is more valuable: One hedge fund manager or one teacher?

The distortion of the Constitution

The third part of the Republican strategy is being played out in the Supreme Court. It has politicized the Court more than at any time in recent memory.

Last year a majority of the justices determined that corporations have a right under the First Amendment to provide unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission is among the most patently political and legally grotesque decisions of our highest court — ranking right up there with Bush vs. Gore and Dred Scott.

Among those who voted in the affirmative were Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Both have become active strategists in the Republican party.

A month ago, for example, Antonin Scalia met in a closed-door session with Michele Bachman’s Tea Party caucus — something no justice concerned about maintaining the appearance of impartiality would ever have done.

Both Thomas and Scalia have participated in political retreats organized and hosted by multi-billionaire financier Charles Koch, a major contributor to the Tea Party and other conservative organizations, and a crusader for ending all limits on money in politics. (Not incidentally, Thomas’s wife is the founder of Liberty Central, a Tea Party organization that has been receiving unlimited corporate contributions due to the Citizens United decision. On his obligatory financial disclosure filings, Thomas has repeatedly failed to list her sources of income over the last twenty years, nor even to include his own four-day retreats courtesy of Charles Koch.)

Some time this year or next, the Supreme Court will be asked to consider whether the nation’s new healthcare law is constitutional. Watch your wallets.

The strategy as a whole

These three aspects of the Republican strategy — a federal budget battle to shrink government, focused on programs the vast middle class depends on; state efforts to undermine public employees, whom the middle class depends on; and a Supreme Court dedicated to bending the Constitution to enlarge and entrench the political power of the wealthy — fit perfectly together.

They pit average working Americans against one another, distract attention from the almost unprecedented concentration of wealth and power at the top, and conceal Republican plans to further enlarge and entrench that wealth and power.

What is the Democratic strategy to counter this and reclaim America for the rest of us?

Cross-posted from Robert Reich’s blog.

Comments to “The Republican strategy

  1. In a city like Berkeley where parking tickets take a majority of the working people’s money, and the city requires renter’s to be registered like in Hitler’s and Stalin’s time, and the head of the Rent Board makes over $178,000 and another 30% percent with benefits and the Berkeley High School is spending $25 million on a new football stadium while cutting science classes, it is a good thing that the Republicans are not running things, because they would focus on private sector jobs unfairly rewarding people that work producing value rather giving it to those that need it most because they do not have that skill.

  2. I am struck by the fact that republicans and tea party members professed to want smaller government and yet they want to control marriage, abortion, unions and want to control everything to protect the continuing excelerating wealth of the upper 1% or about 3,150,000, at the expense of 311,850,000 others in this country. They are sworn to work for all of us, but work for just a few, while hanging the rest out to dry….they are not earning their pay. In fact, for the last 2 years, all the did was show up to say they weren’t going to work at anything…they said “no” to everything. On any other job in America, they would have been fired!

    But take a good look….when they come up for re-election, none of these 20 governors will be back! They lied and ommited their real agendas when the campaigned, and a coward gets a coward’s reward! The truth is that anyone making less than $250,000.00 should ignore the rhetoric and vote for the philosophy…republicans are for the rich, democrats are for everyone else, financially, racially, culturally, and irregardless of sexual orientation. I watch republicans lie from the floor of the House and Senate almost every day…they only way they can win is to instill fear in people and to distort the truth. It is hilarious to me that these same people called President Obama “Hitler”, right now, Governor Walker is enacting a pretty good rendition of “Hitler”! He’s arrogant, and somehow mistook the title of Governor to mean “GOD”. He has a long way to fall. I just wonder what the Koch brothers are promising or paid him to do their dirty deeds.

    I urge everyone: “boycott all Koch Enterprise products: Georgia Pacific paper products: Dixie Cups, Brawny, Northern, Angel Soft,Sparkle and as a result of the buy out of Dupont: Lycra and Stainmaster fabrics.” Then, pressure the attorney general to investigate those Supreme Court justices that seem to have close ties to the Koch brothers and may have been corrupted enough to support the Citizens United decision that made all this possible. Just a year before that decision, they were complaining about insufficient pay…then it became a non-issue. I’d like to see a review of their finances. For the first time in my life, I feel the Supreme Court is no longer a credible, honest and unbiased court. Professor Reich…thank you for all you do, and ignore the idiots who criticise you, you are the one with the noble peace prize!

  3. There is nothing reverent in what government does! For a long, long time now the people you see on the left side of the isle are great orators of sophisms. They will profess how compassionate they are towards our fellow man and how much they care for the children. These are the props they use ever day to deceive the people into thinking they are on your side when in fact they are constantly greasing the democrat’s machine, their base. They extract from the public coffers the money to buy the votes to keep them in power and on occasion bring new constituents into their organization in hopes of maintaining a controlling majority. They are professional politicians, it is their job, and the rest of us are their meal ticket.

    If Robert Reich were truly compassionate he would see that the majority of the citizens of any state should be gainfully employed in the private sector so as to not-have our budget running in the red to support their machine. The deficits are of your making. The rich are about improving our lives through employment and products that we need. How dare you Mr. Reich construe government as virtuous and the rich as evil!

    • Very well stated Robert J, the truth is that both the republican and democratic party leaderships have caused the political, social, economic and environmental problems we are experiencing today. Our decline and fall has been going on for decades under both party leaderships, and our votes are not able to protect We The People at all.

      President Obama will have to be another George Washington to restore American Democracy because personal avarice and lust for power dominates the votes of the majority of elected representatives, and judges, in both parties.

      Federal, state and local governments and courts throughout America have been overthrowing American Democracy for far too long.

  4. “Roosevelt openly opposed bargaining rights for government unions.”

    Anthony St. John ’63 (laugh), that is what Scott Walker is doing, which has got the Wisconsin Unions up in Arms.

    “He wants state employees to pay 5.8% of their salaries toward their pensions (they pay almost nothing now) and he wants them to cover 12.6% of their health care premiums (their share would go up from $79 a month to about $200; the average private-sector sap pays about $330).”

    Public union members have better education , pay less into the tax-pool, reap more money than poor and uneducated private sector people that the lefty – rich facists (public Unions) want to pay their health and pensino. Obama passed Obamacare then gave out 777 waivors to his public union thugs. That is not democracy.

    If any UC B. professor champions Obama’s decision as democractic, they are in fact liars, frauds, thugs and tyrant worshipers. If democracy eqaultity then everyone should get the same wage and pension. If not then you are all Right wingers regardless of your claims.

    • Fred, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore, our government is devolving to a level where we have so many Us/Them divisions that even ochlocracy by mob rule works to some extent as our world descends into a state of chaos because the leaderships of all of our institutions have failed to protect our civilization from surviving like all those have failed before ours.

      The ultimate irony is that our universities teach us that these things have happened and can continue to happen, but they somehow they never motivate us to protect our civilization from our failures to control our destructive emotions due to the limitations of our mental machinery.

      Thus we learn, and relearn the lessons of history the hard way, but not nearly enough of our institutional leaders that graduate from our universities really care to make the right things happen because their own personal lusts for wealth and power dominate their cultural values due to the continued failures of all our institutions.

      So yes, there are far too many “liars, frauds, thugs and tyrant worshipers” types, and there are far too few politicians and intellectuals willing to cooperate even when the ultimate consequence of failure is the extinction of humanity, or at least the destruction of our quality of life.

  5. Prof. Reich, your post is producing a new Declaration of Independence, this time against the new Tory Republican aristocracy that wants to control our lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness once again by overthrowing Democracy and the Rule of Law using their Us/Them dichotomy that will exclude everyone who is not part of their existing Tory Republican aristocracy (even excluding most republican voters who don’t meet their wealth and power requirements).

    Are you going to be the leader of Berkeley’s professors and scholars who are pledging your lives, fortunes and sacred honour to restore Democracy, the Rule of Law and our unalienable rights for We The People once again?

  6. Make every US individual a Union member (U.S.S.R. like), at $100,000 a year salary, free medical, dental, perks, etc…, and retirement per annum, at $80,000. If you cannot budget that, then you are not for equality (Democracy) you are a fraud –Period. Your play-book comes from Socialist, Commie, Saul Alinsky, it has nothing to do with the Republicans.

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