What's wrong with this picture? Meet American No. 1, a captain of industry who keeps employee pay and benefits down by moving jobs to India. Heck, he even moved his corporate HQ to some tax-free island in the Caribbean. If trouble comes, no worries — Uncle Sam will bail him out.
American No. 2 is a public servant, solidly middle-class, who works to help society function — keeping the peace as a cop or teaching the next generation of citizens. She’s not getting rich, but it’s rewarding, crucial work.
So who is the red, white and blue all-American and who is the dark threat to democracy? Crazy as it might sound, in places like Idaho and Wisconsin, teachers are being blamed for our economic problems.
This all started last year with the Tea Party railing against government; then some of them got elected and, along with others already in office, they decided to try out their theories. So we have the spectacle of tens of thousands marching in Madison, Wisc., against the governor’s plan to kill public employee unions under cover of the economic crisis. And in Coeur d’Alene we have high school students decrying the state’s superintendent of schools’ plan to replace teachers with laptops.
What do these union-busters really want? To emulate Walmart and cut hours to shirk paying benefits? We have a moral duty to pay our public servants a livable wage that builds our middle class.
It’s a well-documented fact that the American middle class is struggling, with stagnant wages and lack of opportunity in the face of globalization. America is bravely adjusting to this new reality, but the fact is, public investment is a huge part of our American future. Just look around the Inland Northwest: Fairchild, public schools and colleges, government at all levels. (To take it further, consider life here without our hydroelectric dams, agricultural price subsidies or the interstate highway system.) This is the society we have built together, and it runs on fair pay to those who do all the things nobody but government can or will do — roads, police, fire protection, courts, education.
Having a great country isn’t free. Everyone in America knows that elections have consequences, and the democratically elected leaders in Idaho and Wisconsin are acting on their political beliefs. That’s how our system works.
But free speech is part of the system, too, and while 2010 may have been the year of the Tea Party, 2011 is looking like the year the middle class makes a stand.
Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.