Less than a week after dodging the end of the world as we know it, Californians were met with the news that Grover Norquist, the hatchet-man of the hard right, had come to Sacramento and was roaming the hallways of the Capitol reminding Republican legislators (all but a handful of whom had signed his notorious pledge to never raise taxes) that bad things would happen if they reconsidered. Norquist, who conservative pundit Tucker Carlson once called “a mean-spirited, humorless, dishonest little creep . . . the leering, drunken uncle everyone else wishes would stay home,” is a darkly looming figure. As Drake Bennett recently pointed out in Business Week:
Grover Norquist has no real precedent in American politics. A single unelected actor with a single issue, he holds immense power over the Republican Party’s fiscal platform, and, through it, the national policy debate. “I don’t know of anyone outside of government who has had this kind of influence on politics before,” writes Columbia University historian Alan Brinkley in an e-mail. “He’s sui generis, I think, not a politician, not visible very often in the media, but remarkably powerful.”
Norquist’s goal in California is to make sure that California Republicans don’t allow voters to decide whether or not we should temporarily extend current taxes to help solve the $12 billion budget deficit that remains after the billions of dollars that have already been cut from state spending. The idea is to push for an all-cuts budget that will shrink California’s government down to a size that Grover might be able to “drown in a bathtub,” as he once famously quipped.
Everything else can be privatized or eliminated
Indeed, Norquist believes that the only legitimate functions of government are, as he said this April in the Washington Post, “A military strong enough to keep the Canadians on their side of the border . . . [and] Protecting life and property from annoying people.” Everything else can be privatized or eliminated. After all, by Grover’s logic, government workers are like criminals, “If your big paycheck is driven by money taken from taxpayers by force, then it is wrong.”
His Golden Era? Norquist again in the Post: “We didn’t have an income tax imposed on the American people until (temporarily) the war to save the union, end slavery and keep the tariffs. Then the income tax was only made permanent in 1913.” The ideal period for American democracy? “1900 [when the] top individual income tax rate [was] 0%”.
Why were the good old days of the Social Darwinists and Robber Barons better? Norquist explains: “Taxation consists of taking money from people who earned it. Fairness, my friend, does not enter the equation. One can tax in more or less destructive ways. Fairness is an odd requirement to demand of the state’s appropriation of our time, money and lives. Better to limit that power. Safer. At the federal level we should start by reducing the top tax rate for individuals and businesses to 25%. At the state level, zero is a reasonable goal.”
So if you’d like roll back the 20th century and to go back to an America with legal segregation, child labor, no health and safety laws, no workplace protections, no Social Security or Medicare, no food safety regulations, no environmental protections, no wage laws, no social safety net for the poor, the sick, the elderly, the disabled, or the young, stand with Grover Norquist and his Republican friends. It’s the end of the world as we know it and they feel fine.
Et Tu Democrats?
While Governor Jerry Brown is confident that “visiting ideologues from the Potomac River” won’t prevail, other Democrats are deciding it’s easier to join them than beat them. As Labor Notes recently reported, “In Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois, and Connecticut, Democratic legislators, eager to save money, are betting they can cut into public employee bargaining rights and still win union backing at election time.” The political calculation here seems to be that as Labor declines, it will have to side with the party that only wants to cut off a limb rather than the party that wants to chop off its head. Thus, these visionary, union-busting Democrats see a future of union phone bankers continuing to spend dues money and time electing the very same Democrats who just threw them under the bus.
Even more surprising for some is what the Democratic mayor of San Jose has done by declaring a state of fiscal emergency. According to the New York Times: “In theory, at least, a state of emergency will enable Mr. Reed, a popular Democrat, to amend contracts and benefits packages of the city’s employees and retirees. Most significantly, in what may become a test-case with national implications, Mr. Reed is asserting that public employees have no ‘vested rights’ to the specific terms of their pension plans and benefits going forward. (Already-accrued benefits would not be affected.)” And all this is being proposed despite San Jose city unions’ proposals to take 10% pay cuts and negotiate pension reforms. With Democrats like these, who needs Scott Walker? What we may be seeing here is the beginning of the end of the Labor-Democratic coalition. Noam Chomsky’s well-known formulation that America has “two-wings of the business party” has never been truer.
Bad Moons Rising
Looking forward, San Diego has several ballot battles looming with the “Greater Schools” measure seeking to usurp democratically-elected school boards, Carl DeMaio’s pension busting measure, and a third ballot proposition seeking to undermine collective bargaining for the building trades by banning project labor agreements. These are joined by more anti-labor initiatives at the statewide level seeking to gut Labor’s ability to organize and take part in the political process. With no progressive measures out there vying for your signature, your homework for the summer dear reader is to “decline to sign.”
Sorry folks, the world didn’t end last week so we’ve still got some work to do down here amongst the fallen and forlorn.