Florida Republican Alan West fretted yesterday over whether to extend unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut for most American workers, explaining that, "We're broke." In these two words, West channeled Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, who justified his many draconian cuts in public worker wages, public school aids and other programs on the basis that, with respect to the state, "We're broke."
But neither the feds nor the states are broke. By business accounting standards, they're in a pinch, for sure, but Wisconsin is still taking in billions of dollars in annual tax and fee revenue. It's a going concern. Same with the federal government. Federal deficits now go almost entirely to pay for huge war costs, Bush tax cuts and interest on previous debt. Republicans seek not to end those costs but to reassign them to social programs including Medicare and Medicaid, which, despite memes to the contrary, remain going concerns themselves.
There's a bigger, more disturbing component to this "we're broke" talk, though.
Using feigned bankruptcy as an excuse to defund Democratic Party and progressive programs is the real reason behind the GOP rhetoric. And that's been codified in the Supreme Court's decision that money is the equivalent of free speech. Except of course that speech now costs money, which makes it un-free. After all, the bigger the megaphone you own, the more that you can drown out the other 99 percent of us who can't afford anything except our own, non-amplified voices.
This money-as-speech strategy also shows up in other ways that harm democracy. Take Walker, once again. Walker and his GOP lawmaker enablers in the Wisconsin legislature have decided to squash dissent against their policies by making protest, even peaceful protest, too expensive, less visible and more bureaucratic.
Under new executive orders to be issued by Walker without public hearings or legislative action, protesters will no longer simply be able to show up and start waving protest signs outside the state Capitol or near other state government facilities. Now, you'll need to make reservations, 72 hours in advance, unless your protest consists of no more than three people.
And you'd better have deep pockets if you do get permission to exercise your free speech, because Walker is going to rid you of as much of your cash as possible for every public "expense" he decides might be associated with your protest. That includes a fifty dollar per hour charge for any police officer he decides is necessary to be assigned to watch over your protest.
Never mind that the blood of hundreds of thousands of Americans has been shed to ensure that protest won't come affixed with a price tag. There's that "speech is actually the same as money" theme, again.
And yet that isn't the ultimate level to which the GOP goes in managing dissent. The Authoritarian Party (that's what I call the GOP, now) increasingly seeks to declare democracy off limits to Americans. If you're collecting petitions in Wisconsin, for a recall campaign or any other political purpose, courts have ruled that privately owned property is off limits unless the owners consent. Of course, similar restrictions are also true across more and more of America as public spaces are taken private -- even our supposedly "public" parks, as the Occupy Wall Streeters discovered in the case of New York City. And now you know one of the big reasons why Republicans love privatization.
To paraphrase the title of a book by The Progressive magazine editor Matt Rothschild, Americans no longer have any rights. Not even the right to complain, if the GOP has anything to say about it.