The lesson of the events in Wisconsin for progressives is clear. When you let the opposition set the political agenda and frame the political discussion, losing is inevitable. The conservative, tea party narrative asserts that government has been living beyond its means, and that government needs to cut back just as American families have had to cut back. And who can argue with that?
The answer to this question has mostly to do with another even more fundamental question — about what kind of America we want to live in. Greed, corruption and outright fraud committed on Wall Street resulted in the collapse of our financial system and the implosion of housing prices. Millions of Americans lost their jobs and their homes, and many millions more struggle to make ends meet.
State governments were spared financial calamity by federal government Recovery Act payments for the past two years. With federal subsidies to the states ending later this year, state governments are cutting services for the poor, going after the pay and benefits of teachers and other public employees — but are still making good on many, many billions of dollars of obligations to financial institutions.
Congress enacts hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while State governments lay off teachers and cops and firefighters. Congressional Republicans are calling for austerity while the economy suffers from weak demand and anemic job creation. Banks got bailouts and are again making enormous profits while homeowners get foreclosed on, and have seen huge declines in the value of their homes.
Well, it’s time to change the narrative. The government has been living beyond it’s means but it has done so largely to benefit the wealthy. Where are the bailouts for middle class families who have lost their jobs and homes?
Middle class families need help to stay in their homes, pay for the health care they need, and send their children to college. Why not a moratorium on foreclosures and and easing of bankruptcy laws to help those who fall on hard times? Why not college subsidies for the middle class, and college loan forgiveness plans to ease the burden of crushing education loan debt on middle class graduates.
Is the America we want to live in really a place where the concentration of wealth in America now rivals that of many “banana republics”? Where the top 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation’s income? Why not an end to tax subsidies for capital gains, or an end to taxpayer subsidies for obscene corporate CEO and executive compensation?
In the end, the question is whether freedom in America should be limited to the freedom to get extremely wealthy without government interference, or whether government should invest in its people again and help ensure that the American Dream includes a livable wage and standard of living for all Americans.