As Robert Reich points out in a recent article, the new Republican strategy is to fracture, split, and pit against each other, the vast middle and working class, in four separate ways:
- pitting unionized workers against non-unionized,
- public-sector workers against non-public-sector workers,
- older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don't believe these programs will be there for them, and who don't currently need them,
- the poor against the working middle class.
By spending billions to fracture working America along these four faultlines, the Republican financial elite want ordinary Americans to come to believe that we can no longer afford to do what we very much need to do as a nation. Simultaneously they hope to deflect our attention away from their increasing share of total income and wealth, which is essentially being funneled into the pockets of this richest 1%, while jobs and wages for everyone else are allowed to languish (by being sent to China and/or be replaced by the growing efficiency of automation and computerization).
In addition, Republicans don't want us to notice their campaign to grant additional tax cuts for the rich, by way of:
- 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 a measly 15%.
Their efforts to accomplish all this will take place on three different fronts:
1. The Washington D.C. Battle Over the Federal Budget
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 if others are to win.
The president has already fallen into this perceptual 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, healthy middle-class voters, who will essentially be invited to split themselves off from the rest of us and save money for themselves in the process, at our expense.
2. The Assault on Public Employees
The second front of the overall Republican battle plan is being played out on the state level where public employees are being blamed for state budget crises. But unions didn't cause these budget crises -- state revenues dropped because of the Great Recession. Yet underhanded Republicans view these crises as opportunities to gut public employee unions, starting with teachers' unions.
In Republican unison, 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." But whose billions are backing these efforts and why?
The demonizing of public employees is not only based on the lie that they've caused these budget crises, but it's also based on a second lie: that public employees earn more than private-sector workers. In fact they don't, if you take account of their respective amounts of education. In fact, over the last fifteen years the pay of public-sector workers, including teachers, has dropped relative to private-sector employees of the same educational achievement -- even when 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 merely $19,000 a year.
Bargaining rights for public employees are not what's causing state deficits to explode! And here's the proof: several states that deny their employees bargaining rights, such as Nevada, North Carolina, and Arizona, are running big deficits of over 30% of spending. Meanwhile, many states that do give employees bargaining rights -- Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Montana -- have small deficits (of less than 10%).
The point is that Republicans would much 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 would not have their jobs today were it not for the giant taxpayer-supported bailout. Also keep in mind that most of their lending and investing practices were the proximate cause of the Great Recession/Depression with which we're still not finished.