It may not be what you think.
During the debate Thursday night, Joe Biden repeatedly told Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and their Republican cohorts to just “get out of the way” and stop jobs legislation that would help the economic recovery.
Why have the Republicans so cynically sought to block a full-fledged economic recovery?
Today, Republicans display an utter rejection of Keynesian-style economic stimulus A zealous band of rightwing economists assert, without factual basis, that increased government spending doesn’t stimulate the economy. (Their mystifying belief is thoughtfully examined and refuted by progressive economist Jeff Madrick in the October issue of Harper’s.)
That theory is a convenient cover for their distaste of anything that hints of redistribution and anything that strengthens unions. Government stimulus programs can provide an alternative to the low wages prevailing in the private sector. And public sector jobs are about five times as unionized as private sector ones.
Not for nothing that Mitt Romney hailed Scott Walker’s triumph in the recall election against the Wis. governor who so brutally went after public sector workers.
“Did he [President Obama] not get the message in Wisconsin?” Romney asked a few days after the June recall vote. Romney mocked Obama for wanting “ more firemen, more policemen, more teachers,” adding: “It's time for us to cut back on government.”
This is the austerity formula spreading Depression-level unemployment, misery, and outrage across Europe right now.
The Republicans’ rejection of any new government spending during the greatest downturn in 80 years is a very recently developed article of religious faith.
During far more modest recessions, Republican presidents like Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush all utilized increases in government employment to stave off more severe downturns and spur recovery, as Ezra Klein of the Washington Post pointed out June 13:
“What did all of those Republican presidents do to help end the recessions that they faced? What did they all increase as president during those recessions? …. Government jobs. Government employment grew under all those Republican presidents. Not only did we not lay off public workers, we hired more of them, a lot more. That helped prevent bad recessions from turning into horrible ones.”
But the Republicans of the Obama years have suddenly spurned this obvious wisdom, and tried to strangle as many government jobs as possible in the cradle. The result: a loss of 650,000 local, state and federal jobs over the past two years. In the words of Mark Zandi, former economic adviser to John McCain’s campaign and chief analyst of Moody Analytics, “The job losses at state and local governments is the most serious weight on the job market.”
Yet Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell—who openly proclaimed his chief goal not as enacting needed legislation but preventing a second Obama term—flatly rejects supporting the public sector. “We’re not going to get this economy going by growing the government,” he said. “It’s the private sector that’s ultimately going to drive the recovery.”
President Obama is at fault here, too. He sometime sounds like he is reading from McConnell’s hymnal with his own incessant stress on “private-sector job growth.” Obama has not done enough to remind the American public how public services and jobs are essential to a complete economic recovery from the crisis created by excess growth of the parasitic financial sector and the loss of much of America’s productive base.
Obama has too often been silent, as in Wisconsin, when public employees and the crucial services they provide—from education to healthcare to street repair to garbage pickup and a thousand other tasks—are under assault.
While a Republican majority in the House is certain to block any job creation through the public sector that he initiates, Obama is failing to build an understanding that the public sector plays a vital role.
Direct government employment, as well as the creation of jobs in the private sector generated by government contracts (like repairing bridges, adding broadband capacity to schools and small communities, putting solar panels on public buildings), expands the buying power of consumers and helps us climb out of our economic malaise.
But Republicans don’t want people to have good-paying public-sector jobs. The GOP represents the most vicious bosses in the country. Employers have used the current economic uncertainty facing employees to drive down wages, strip workers of healthcare and pension benefits, and silently accept management abuses. At this juncture, decently paid and humanely treated public employment can serve as a model for how workers should be treated in an advanced democracy that supposed to believe in dignity for all its citizens.
As Les Leopold—author of the scathing book The Looting of America on the Wall Street meltdown and the resulting crisis—argues, a strong public sector is essential to providing full employment in a society now wracked by insecurity. “The private sector on its own will never create enough jobs for all who need them,” he recently declared. “And without full employment, we will continue to see our incomes stagnate and decline.”
Biden spoke directly and powerfully to this point about insecurity on Thursday night. He said the people who built this country (meaning, the working class and the middle class) “want a little bit of peace of mind. And the president and I are not going to rest until that playing field is leveled, until they in fact have a clear shot and they have peace of mind, until they can turn to their kid and say with a degree of confidence, honey, it's going to be OK. It's going to be OK. That's what this is all about.”
Romney and Ryan would rather have workers be scared and worried—the easier for employers to exploit them.