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The Commons and the Danger of Misplaced Outrage

Sweeping condemnation of government ignores the indispensable purpose of government that is the cement of our country by serving everyone.

Mr. Reagan set the modern stage for the oligarchy we now experience. (Photo: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, cc)

Mr. Reagan set the modern stage for the oligarchy we now experience. (Photo: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, cc)

It is often asserted that "Timing is everything."

This is particularly true with regard to our unstable and undemocratic economy.

Our nation, enlightened in its founding is still driven by dominant economic class interests.

Throughout US history, wealthy, economic elites routinely trashed government when the economy would inevitably hit the skids and their power and privilege were threatened.

The apologists in the media and the two major political parties with one head would trot out the familiar anecdotal evidence about wasteful government and efficient private interests. It was repeated so often it gained the appearance of truth to justify this narrative.

That view presents the government as the root cause of our economic travails while aggrandizing the private sector.

Never mind that if it weren’t for government bailouts after the “Great Recession” in 2009 and the historical routine government purchases from the private economy, that private economy would tank in a Trump minute. 

Scapegoating

President Ronald Reagan ushered in a new chapter of government scapegoating in his inaugural address in 1981:

“Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

This warped perception of government as primarily dysfunctional and corrupt signaled a blistering attack on working people through neoliberal policies comprised of massive deregulations for business and financial institutions, deep tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, cutting programs that assisted working people, and relentless undermining of private and public sector unions.

Mr. Reagan set the modern stage for the oligarchy we now experience. The Trump administration continues that travesty by adding a tariff policy that threatens what remains of the manufacturing sector.

Certainly the Trump administration has surpassed the worst moral and ethical failures of any administration in our history. However, if we remove the Trump decay from the narrative, we are still left with the government as scapegoat myth.  

It’s as if government has no relevant function except to spread waste, fraud and abuse. The Democratic Party, ostensibly the party representing working people is hardly distinguishable from the Republican Party in that regard. We expect the Republican Party, that has morphed into the party of the spiritually disabled, to denounce government. It’s the foundation of their strategy since  Mr. Reagan adopted the plan concocted by Jude Wanniski known as the “Two Santa Clauses Theory.” 

Democratic Party Not Much Different

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party ignores a narrative that shows just how crucial the government is to manage the pedestrian processes of the country. It is working people that do what is required to keep things going.

Overlooked is that these same working people often as union members are also experiencing similar deprivations as the economy continues to stagnate with widening chasms of wealth and income inequalities. 

Placing culpability for a torpid economy on the government is clearly transparent scapegoating.

Federal, local, and municipal services and programs are decimated; working people are agitated to direct their outrage at the government. Remember when an outraged elderly fellow ranted at Republican Congressman Inglis at a political forum in 2009,

“Keep your government hands of my Medicare.” Really?

This view repeated itself since 1994; it was a result of a cynical Republican strategy to sink healthcare reform. Just confuse the voters with an echo chamber of lies they will become unwittingly accepted.  

Yes, they were accepted by many as caterwauling against government reached an astonishing crescendo. The outrage of those caviling against the government was amplified right up the 2016 elections.

Misplaced Outrage

However, shouldn’t we all be outraged:

When city or town offices are closed.

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When libraries and community centers are closed.

When bridges, roads and buildings are decrepit or crumbling.

When their trash and recycling are not collected.

When veteran’s homes or elder care services are cut back or eliminated.

When public hospital emergency rooms and ambulance services hours are reduced.

When schools close and students are jammed into inadequate space with deficient learning materials.

When school teachers and assistants are reduced, jeopardizing high quality educational opportunities for their children.

When public school bus service declines and school crossing guards cannot protect their children.

When public school teachers and assistants are reduced, jeopardizing high quality educational standards.

When school tuitions increase beyond the reach of most working people.

When fire departments and police departments are cut, threatening public safety.

When public transportation service is reduced or fares are raised exorbitantly.

When eating establishments fail to meet sanitary or food quality standards.

When tap water arrives at their homes with strange hues or bacteria.

When their rivers become dumping grounds for municipal, industrial, commercial and medical waste.

When parks and recreation areas are closed or hazardous to the public and become trash heaps.

When sewers become clogged and spill over into their streets and yards.

The Commons

Government maintenance directly impacts the quality of life in our communities. We forget that the airways, the internet, our legal system, scientific knowledge and research and development are also part of the “commons.”

The “commons” are our social organizations that provide services and protect elements of the environment that are owned and enjoyed by all residents. The colonial term to describe some states as "Commonwealths" reflects that history. 

The founders had basic, yet powerful thoughts on the role of government and the commons. John Adams in 1776 in “Thoughts on Government” wrote:

“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.”

Sweeping condemnation of government ignores the indispensable purpose of government that is the cement of our country by serving everyone.

The wealthiest in our communities do not have a constitutional, legislative, or cultural prerogative to line their pockets by privatization of the commons at the expense of middle and low-income working people.

That should outrage all of us.

Bruce T. Boccardy

Bruce T. Boccardy

Bruce T. Boccardy serves as an Economics & Labor Advisor for Small Planet Institute, was president of the Massachusetts Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 888, represented labor on the Massachusetts Joint Labor-Management Committee (JLMC), serving firefighters and police and consulted to the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE).

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