Conservative Values One Penny at a Time

Great Seal of the State of Minnesota

Great Seal of the State of Minnesota

In Minnesota the GOP is trying to impose its conservative values on the state by hiding behind the screen of the budget crisis, a budget crisis that their deliberate underfunding of government helped cause.  Rather than confront the state’s budget situation straight on and responsibly, they take it as an opportunity to reduce government further, dismantle public services and public goods, and give more to the free-market. 

This is not going to help in either the short term or the long term.  But that is of no concern to the GOP.  They want to help themselves and private profits before they serve the interests of the state.  Prove otherwise.

In the first place, Republicans simply must not understand what a public good is.  Most importantly they don’t understand the economics behind them, why they exist and the important positive impact of public goods. 

(Joseph Stiglitz has a good essay about education and knowledge as a crucially valuable public good.  Sadly the GOP is not contributing much here, either.  But I digress.)

Take a look at two GOP ideas to help solve Minnesota’s budget problem.  In one they propose charging prisoners a $5 co-pay for medical visits.  In another they propose logging black walnut trees in two of Minnesota’s state parks.  

What is wrong with stuff like this?  It depends on your point of view if there is anything wrong at all.  You might not like prisoners and want to charge them for doctor visits.  You might care more about profits than parks. 

That’s all fine…maybe…but I think we should all be able to agree that proposals which will generate a million here and a million there really are not serious efforts at restructuring a systemic multi-billion dollar budget problem.  The people proposing these “solutions” have other goals in mind.

Republicans hypocritically whine about earmarks, but this is in essence a pork barrel of another sort.  In the case of the prison medical co-pay, it is a way to make a tough disciplinary stand on criminals.  It is like stealing candy from a baby — which I wouldn’t quite presume your local GOP representative does, by the way, at least not since he or she has grown up — but who is going to come to the defense of prisoners?  For the most part, no one.  It is like shooting fish in a barrel…a pork barrel.  Thus potentially an easy political “victory.” 

And…oh yeah…that budget.  They did something net positive for the budget, about a penny’s worth.

And the trees…here is a true political earmark.  What do the Republicans screech about incessantly?  The sneaky tricks played on them and the American people when irrelevant legislation is snuck into larger bills, right?  While this isn’t necessarily being snuck into the budget proposal, it has the same result.

The money made from trees that would otherwise “rot” and be wasted will amount to a drop in the overall budget bucket.  In essence it is irrelevant.  Our state funding problems are much broader and systematic than anything that sacrificing some park trees can help solve (or privatizing some state forestry resources, another short-term, short-sighted solution proposed by the GOP here). 

What they really have to gain, under the cover of a budget crisis, is a chance to take profits from public resources.  Haven’t we had enough of this?

America’s public resources are a sense of pride for many of us.  Patriotic Americans supported our shared public investments.  Minnesota often lead the way with some of the best public resources in the nation.  Now?  Now we are chiseling away at it all in the phony interest of resolving a budget mess. 

What matters first is ideology.  You can see this at the national level with attempts to cut funding the public broadcasting at NPR and PBS.  Those are not cuts that will make a difference.  Funding programs like that are not causing the problem.  In the United States we have a funding problem first, then look at the spending problem.  (Unnecessary wars?  Unsustainable tax cuts?)

Where conservatives failed to divide us on social issues, they are succeeding on economic ones.  By creating an economic crisis, they have the opportunity to “earmark” their social agenda into public legislation.  It is more than the privatization of public services and resources (cf., Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine.), it is at a level of personal conservative values that include religion, sexuality, gender and race. 

Conservatives don’t want less government.  They want more of it.  They want more that reflects their personal values, not good public policy and investment.  It is high time we call them out on it.  In Minnesota people like Representative Kurt Zellers and senators Koch and Michele talk a lot, but they don’t answer questions.  They preach and squirm.  And we let them get away with it. 

Ask a very simple question:  How, exactly, will they close a $6 billion dollar budget gap with cuts alone.  (Still waiting for an answer.)  How can they — a party that pretends to support families and the middle class — support an unbalanced tax system that benefits the wealthiest with lower real tax rates?

Ask questions.  Demand answers.  Above all else, don’t let Republicans earmark their morality, which should be private and personal, into legislation that should serve the common good. 

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