By Matthew Rothschild on July 05, 2010

The Republicans have found a new scapegoat for the economy, in addition to illegal immigrants.

The new scapegoat is public sector workers.

Unwilling to blame Bush for the budget deficit, unable to blame Wall Street for wrecking the economy, and incapable of blaming a lack of regulation or capitalism itself for the morass we’re in, Republicans are pointing their fingers now at public sector workers.

The teachers, police officers, fire fighters, and other government employees are just making too much money, the Republicans say, regardless of the fact that public sector workers in state after state have been laid off or put on unpaid furloughs.

But Republicans don’t want you to think about. Much less do they want you to notice that it’s the top 1 percent that’s made off like bandits over the last 30 years. God forbid we raise the marginal income tax rates, or the capital gains tax, or the estate tax.

The last thing Republicans want is to incite class warfare against the upper class. Far better to incite warfare within the middle class and have the majority of Americans blaming each other. (See “War on Public Workers,” by Amy Traub in The Nation, July 5.)

One Republican politician after another is joining the chorus against public sector workers, whether it’s Scott Brown of Massachusetts or Mitch Daniels of Indiana or Rand Paul of Kentucky or even Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, who has ordered all state workers to get minimum wage until the budget mess there is resolved.

In Wisconsin, where I live, the Wisconsin State Journal just ran a story about public sector workers in Dane County earning more than workers doing similar jobs in the private sector, with at least one local politician complaining about this.

But the average public sector salary is only about $35,000. Are we really going to accept that such a salary is too high? Shall we just kiss the middle class goodbye?

Part of this strategy of blaming the public sector worker is mere distraction—a shell game to keep people from focusing on those who are really feasting at the trough: the corporations and the richest of the rich.

And part of it is a calculated attack on unions, since the public sector has a 37.4 percent unionization rate, while the private sector is down at 7.2 percent.

But whatever the motivation, it’s a disgusting strategy.

The next time you hear a politician or a pundit trash public sector workers, ask them if they’d like to take minimum wage—or even a salary of $35,000.

Chances are, they’re making a lot more than that.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his article “State Department Denies Visa to Leading Colombian Journalist and Nieman Fellow.”

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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I’m at my third American Exchange Legislative Council (ALEC) conference, this time in Dallas, and on my first day,...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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