While Republicans have been set on destroying public sector unions in states like Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan, draconian budget cuts are being pushed in other states. However, in many cases, it’s Democrats who are leading the charge.
In the articles on these two pages, we document the astonishing breadth of the cuts now being pushed by Democratic Party governors and legislators in New York and California. This is being repeated in countless other states, counties and cities. So what does this tell us about the Democratic Party as a possible ally of workers, the poor and young people in this period of sharp economic attacks?
Both Democrats and Republicans have accepted the premise that cuts are the only “realistic” policy to deal with deficits. But what’s “realistic” has been framed by big business and the corporate-controlled media, which has its own interests at heart.
Their argument says that “we” have all lived beyond our means and “we” must now trim our budgets. But there is a huge disconnect between the “we” who created the crisis and the “we” who are now being asked to pay for it.
During the last 30 years, the share of the richest 1% in national income has doubled: from around 9% in 1977 to over 20% now. The share owned by the richest one-tenth of 1% has tripled. The 150,000 households that comprise the top one-tenth of 1% now earn as much as the bottom 120 million put together. In the 1950s, the highest earners paid a tax rate of 91%. Now it’s 36%. At the same time, massive corporations like Exxon Mobil and General Electric pay virtually no taxes.
Chris Hedges writes: “The powerful, with no check left on their greed and criminality, are gorging on money while they busily foreclose our homes, bust the last of our unions, drive up our health care costs, and cement into place a permanent underclass of the broken and the poor. They are slashing our most essential and basic services – including budgets for schools, firefighters, and assistance programs for children and the elderly – so we can pay for the fraud they committed when they wiped out $14 trillion of housing wealth, wages, and retirement savings. All we have left is the capacity to say ‘no.’ And if enough of us say ‘no,’ if enough of us refuse to cooperate, the despots are in trouble,” (“Power Concedes Nothing Without a Demand,” 3/14/11).
Working people and the poor increasingly see through these policies. A January 2011 poll by CBS’s 60 Minutes found 61% want to raise taxes on the wealthy as the primary way to cut the deficit.
So we need to ask: Why aren’t the Democrats following this public mood and calling for higher taxes on the super-rich and big business? To ask the question immediately points to the answer - because such policies are against the interests of their corporate backers and funders.
For Republicans, with the Tea Party at their backs, cutting budgets flows from their overall free market ideology of idealizing unfettered capitalism and small businesses and demonizing the poor, immigrants and labor. They look with glee at the idea of smashing public sector workers and unions, which they see as weakening the Democrats, for whom public sector unions are an important social base.
Unlike Republicans, such as Walker in Wisconsin, who are pushing cuts with glee, budget-cutting Democratic governors are publicly wringing their hands and throwing their hands up as if they have no choice. They fear these deep cuts in social programs, wages and jobs could start a movement within the unions to withdraw support from the Democrats and build their own political party.
One of those wringing their hands is Washington State Governor, Christine Gregoire. She proposes to entirely cut Basic Health, the only source of health care for 66,000 Washingtonians. In Whatcom County, 2,600 people will lose their health coverage and be forced to suffer with festering ailments. That’s almost one out of every 75 residents! K-12 schools, which are already shamefully underfunded, are losing $2.2 billion and higher education is getting cut drastically too, with lower quality and higher costs. State assistance will also be taken from 49,000 people with severe disabilities. It’s estimated that 10,000 state workers, including teachers, will have been laid off by the end of the next budget period.
We should not be confused by the comments of remorse by Democrats as they slash necessary social services. Democrats have participated with Republicans in pushing through the massive shift to pro-corporate policies in the last 30 years. We need to remember that Bill Clinton made abolishing welfare a key slogan during his 1996 re-election campaign. He also slashed millions of federal government jobs, signed NAFTA into law, and deregulated the banking system, leading to the growth of a massive investment bank bubble that crashed in the fall of 2008.
Democrats and Republicans are united on one thing. They will not shine a light on the unprecedented shift of wealth they have facilitated over the last 30 years from working people and the poor to the richest 1% of society. To state just one statistic: Fully 66% of all income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans (Harvard Magazine, July/Aug 2010). This wealth has been stolen from American workers and poor, and is the principle reason why we face this crisis and devastating cuts. It was the result of policies enacted by both Democrats and Republicans.
Any genuine political party that represented working people, the poor, and young people would be exposing this massive theft and demanding that the wealth of the super-rich and big business be used to rebuild this country. The reality is the Democrats are not that. They are a political party funded by Corporate America and dedicated to its interests.
The Democrats cannot be relied upon to serve our interests in the coming battles. Putting them back into power will just lay the ground for a further Democratic Party sellout, and bring back the Republicans in its wake. Instead, we need all our energy directed into building powerful movements and organizations that can effectively fight against corporate power, including running independent candidates who can be real champions for workers and the poor.