Even a progressive like me can get misty-eyed when the GOP talks about reducing the size of government. No more Big Brother using Echelon to monitor my phone calls. No more bureaucrats handing me a form five times longer than it needs to be. No more cop with a radar gun guarding the speed trap on Farm Lane. Maybe even an end to the War on Drugs?
In your dreams. I have recently decoded the real meaning behind the GOP’s ardent promise to get government out of our hair and, trust me, we aren’t talking the same language. Republicans do not mean that the government will do less (and therefore be cheaper or less intrusive). What “less government” means is that that work will still be done, but poorly and with different folks making the money from your tax dollars and mine. Privatization means “profitization,” carving out some cash for the CEOs and stockholders by reducing the money spent on workers and on getting the job done.
The bottom line is that the money to pay for private-sector profits has to come from somewhere. Mostly it comes from union busting – replacing those public-sector workers who enjoy collective bargaining with folks too fearful to complain. Another way to free up some of your hard-earned tax dollars to pay themselves comes from cutting the number of workers and the tools they need to do the job – running “lean and mean.”
When you hear politicians promise to run government like a business, remember that means working for a jerk who will threaten to fire you if you ask for a raise.
Privatizing government services typically translates into providing less service, often for the same money or more as before. And, of course, the more that the GOP can point to the fact that government does a crappy job of everything it touches, the more you hate government, the more you vote to shrink it, maybe to the point where we can drown it in a bathtub, as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform likes to say. Then all that’s left of government is the IRS that’s used to funnel our dollars to them.
Permit me to explain the logic of GOPworld, where re-branding is the name of the game. By calling the Estate Tax the Death Tax instead, Republicans have been able to change public opinion and end a tax that every other civilized country still views as sacred. Folks who own estates are rich and deserve to pay. But mention death and everyone just wants it to just go away.
Pollster Frank Luntz, who is skewered by Penn and Teller in the video above, is the evil genius who has helped the GOP re-brand itself. He laid out his tactics in his book Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear. In the book, Luntz spells out how you can spin people like a top and make them vote against their self-interest if you use the right hot-button words to cloud their thinking.
A few decades ago, some marketing wizard figured out you could take (expensive and tart) cranberry juice and mix it with (cheap and sweet) apple juice and market the higher fructose mixture at a premium because it was “new.” Ah, but what to call it? Crapple Juice? Too much truth in advertising. How about Cranapple? That’s the ticket.
Borrowing from those tactics of advertising and public relations, hired guns like Luntz make big bucks to find ways to package political poo so deliciously that you will beg to eat it.
So what to call a system where your tax dollars are diverted from the pocket of your middle-class neighbor who works for the government into the pocket of the CEO who lives in the walled community where the guard will taze you if you try to enter? Let’s call it “getting government off your back.”
Hearing those words, Dear Reader, you conjure up visions of smoking a joint unmolested by the ninja-clad and steroidal storm troopers who pass for police nowadays. But where you hear freedom, they hear cash for convicts. Chances are, when you wake from that dream, you may find yourself housed in a newly privatized prison where they feed you green bologna while the firm’s owners eat steak – a place where poorly paid, poorly trained and poorly supervised corrections officers are free to treat you as a flesh beachball that they can bounce around for their own amusement.
Over time, diverting the tax dollars that once went into the pockets of public workers such as teachers, police, firefighters, sanitation workers and corrections officers into the coffers of for-profit corporations erodes the ability of our society to sustain a strong middle class.
But don’t our corporate overlords see that? And don’t they have a good reason to want us to do well? After all, didn’t even Henry Ford come to realize that CEOs should want to pay workers enough to buy the products they were making? Maybe not so much anymore when the global economy means that most of a company’s new customers are overseas in Europe and Asia.
Re-branding privatization as “getting government off your back” is yet another brilliant marketing strategy from the same shameless GOP hucksters who are trying to persuade you that a few embryonic stem cells in a Petri dish deserve the same protections as your baby sleeping blissfully in its crib. You would think that people would be smart enough to figure this out – but not if we continue to allow higher education to become little more than a high-priced job training program for which the lucky few who someday get to become employees are suckered into picking up the tab for training that the companies once paid for.
But I must also come clean and admit that it isn’t just the GOP that is screwing us. When Democratic President Bill Clinton said “the era of big government is over,” he was really announcing the end of a strong middle class in this country. Crony capitalism, as Naomi Klein calls it in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, means that government becomes the instrument to funnel dollars you earned and then paid as taxes into the hands of greedy business folk who return the favor with campaign contributions to those same two parties.
Now that’s crapple.