Thank you, Mitt Romney, for this: "[Obama] wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more fireman, more policeman, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."
It was easily the biggest Romney gaffe yet. Actually, I hesitate to call it a gaffe since a lot of Republicans agree with what he said and Romney was simply so jittery and undisciplined that he unknowingly blurted it out in public. Not only did Romney say something universally positive about the president (framed as something negative), but he also illustrated one of the most glaringly obvious conservative contradictions regarding government programs.
There are several layers to this, so let's begin with what many conservatives secretly believe.
While they insist they're the party of "first responders," "law and order" and so forth, Republican leadership really doesn't like the idea of police and firefighters working for state and local government -- in other words, they don't like law enforcement and the like working directly for We The People. As we've seen in privatized neocon utopias like Iraq, they'd prefer that these services be run by corporate profiteers. Republicans prefer that every government service be handed over to private industry. Let the marketplace handle the services, allowing unaccountable corporations to charge a fee to either the government or to the people on, say, a pay-per-arrest or pay-per-fire basis. What could possibly go wrong? Can't afford to have your burning house extinguished? Sorry. Get a job, freeloader.
As for education, conservatives are well on their way to privatizing it. School vouchers and charter schools are actively -- right now -- sucking money out of public education and pumping it into private services, leaving public education in a deeper hole, and momentum remains in favor of more charter schools and less funding for everyone else.
For-profit education, security and rescue are growing larger in the window. The danger, of course, in this agenda is that private corporations are solely in business for the sake of profit. If it makes financial sense to, for example, ban disabled or slower children from school because they pull down test scores and drive away higher income students, then so be it. If it makes sense to only rescue homes owned by people who can afford the fee, then so be it. Profit is the only result worth measuring in the corporate world. Fact. We've already witnessed what happened when network programming and the profit-motive transformed broadcast news, much to the chagrin of Americans across the political spectrum.
This is the Republican leadership agenda. Bleed the government to death, "drown it in the bathtub" and hand everything over to KBR, Monsanto and Walmart.
Meanwhile, Republican voters don't even really understand what their leaders are up to. While they crap on the notion of "socialism," most Republican voters like the idea of a reliable police force and firefighters -- we all simply expect these services to be free and available, even self-identified anti-government conservatives.
Republicans send their kids to public schools, too. They send their kids to public colleges. They crowbar their kids into public school sports programs -- proudly and with thunderous applause, especially in notoriously conservative states like Texas (see also Friday Night Lights). They expect well-maintained and accessible public roads, national parks, clean water, tunnels that don't flood, bridges that don't collapse and, most importantly, military watchmen standing guard on the wall. Some of them, like George W. Bush, didn't mind giving piles of government money to the financial sector, socializing every failure. They heartily offer government subsidies and incentives (corporate welfare) to businesses all across the country. Oddly, however, they draw the line when it comes to making sure we can be treated for an illness or injury without going broke. They're selective socialists -- even the hardest of the hardcore American conservatives. Case in point: Ron Paul, the most conservative member of Congress in nearly a century, is on a government-employee healthcare plan.
So I don't imagine Romney's remarks about the evils of government services like police, firefighters and education will resonate very well with Republican voters -- especially the ones who, like most of us, still applaud units like the NYPD and FDNY. Speaking of which, I assure you, if this had been a Democratic remark about firemen and policemen, the Republican response would have been a reel of every second of videotape from 9/11 crammed into a 60-second commercial and aired nationwide.
Yesterday, Romney continued to cynically lie and weasel his way out of this hole. He told supporters, "Of course, teachers and firemen and policemen are hired at the local level and also by states. The federal government doesn't pay for teachers, firefighters or policemen. So obviously that's completely absurd."
Wrong. Clearly, Romney is unaware of basic civics and how federal, state and local governments are interconnected.
In addition to billions in annual federal dollars helping to finance local police, firefighters and teachers, we know that Romney has been opposed to the president's stimulus, which pumped billions in federal money to state and local governments in order to save the jobs of teachers, firefighters and police officers. $4 billion for state and local law enforcement. $2.1 billion for Head Start. $53.6 billion to prevent cuts in local school districts and state colleges. Why? Because the "free market" wouldn't do it. Who else was supposed to step up?
This is part of the role of the federal government, contrary to the ridiculous notion that government should be "run like a business." Unlike businesses, government is not tasked with making a profit. Instead, and in times of economic distress, it's in a unique position to be able to pump money into the economy when no one else will. Yes, sometimes this increases the deficit and debt. If that worries you, see also the Reagan years and the tripled debt and doubled deficit following a considerably less serious recession.
Mitt Romney operates under the false assumption that government is like a business. This drives his distaste for spending federal money on our most crucial public servants. He said so, and he needs to be asked why. A lot.
I'm seriously looking forward to hearing Mitt Romney tell us that it was OK to lay off hundreds of thousands of these valuable public servants due to state and local cutbacks. I'm looking forward to hearing Romney tell us that we have enough teachers and firefighters and police and that, in order to roll back the pro-firefighter, pro-police, pro-teacher Obama agenda, we should perhaps fire even more. After all, they're government workers. This is what Romney might want, especially if his business partners might profit from privatizing these services, but I assure you: across the political spectrum, this will be wildly unpopular.