Thursday, June 7, 2012

Americans Still Love Big Government

Don't get too excited about Wisconsin, people.  The problem Wisconsin exposed is a split in the Democratic Party, writes Michael Gerson.
The voters of the Badger State do not object to the idea of an activist, generous state government. The problem for Democrats in Wisconsin and elsewhere is that state and local budget debates unite conservatives while dividing voters who believe in active government.
One the one side are the public-sector unions that just want More; on the other side are the progressives that want the things that government delivers: "parks, libraries, public safety, education, support for the homeless and such."

This, it seems to me, rather misses the point.  The Democrats are united on Big Government.  They want unions and workers' "rights" and they also want big government and its public services. They are united because they all experience themselves as consumers of government--as government workers and as consumers of government services.

The trouble is the average American moderate and independent.  These honest folks are all in favor of big government; they just don't want to pay for it.  So when it looks like government workers are the big rich guys, getting free pensions and health care, it is easy to stir up resentment against them.  Conservatives have been railing for ten years about the princely wages and benefits that government workers get, anywhere from 25 to 50 percent more than equivalent workers in the private sector.  It was only a matter of time before some politicians found a way of capitalizing on this injustice.

When the good times were rolling the moderates and independents were quite happy to vote for new programs.  But now that budget cuts are threatened they think that the government workers should take up the slack by ponying up more for their benefits.

The question is how to get to a more worthy politics, one in which people aren't mere freeloaders eager to cash in on "free stuff" one day and railing enviously against the current winners in the Free Stuff Sweepstakes the next.

America is supposed to be better than that.

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