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David Sirota Headshot

The Aristocrats II: Starring George Will Attacking Firefighters on 9/11

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A few years ago, the film "The Aristocrats" made audiences guffaw with clips of comedians reciting their version of the dirtiest joke in history. Conservatives seem intent on following that flick up with their own version of The Aristocrats - this one starring the aristocrat, George Will, with his own obscene joke, only his isn't funny.

In a column about underfinanced municipal pension systems published on 9/11, Will uses the anniversary of the horrific attacks to express deep anger that veteran police, firefighters and municipal workers - the people who Republicans rhetorically heroize when trying to exploit 9/11 - eventually get paid well for their services. In one California town on San Francisco Bay, Will tells us that - gasp! - "after just five years, all police and firefighters are guaranteed lifetime health benefits." The horror of giving lifetime health benefits to people who have to inhale toxic fumes in burning buildings, or who often sustain serious lifetime wounds on the job.

Such salaries and benefits, of course, are part of a bargain: Enticing people to turn down the high-paying private-sector job and instead run into burning buildings (firefighters), do the dangerous work of apprehending criminals (police), disposing of sewage (garbage collectors) and administrating all the other services that conservatives pretend aren't necessary (municipal workers) requires, well, an enticement - namely, the promise that making such a public-minded choice will result in decent and stable pay and benefits.

When you accept a public sector job, that's the bargain: In exchange for being willing to do a tough job and accepting that you won't have the tiny chance to hit the private-sector jackpot by making hundreds of millions dollars like a corporate CEO, you are rewarded with the chance - if you play by the rules - to make a pretty good living.

Will and his elitist cohorts in Washington, D.C. don't like that set-up, likely because it's not economically Darwinistic enough for their taste. And so rather than asking their fellow aristocrats to pay a little more in taxes for the services they (and all of us) rely on, the Royalist Right cites a few seemingly outrageous examples as justification to force those providing the services to give up the salary and benefits they were originally enticed into the job with. That is, conservatives want to renege on the bargain - forgetting the old adage that you get what you pay for, and you don't get what you don't pay for.

The hypocrisy of this logic is obvious when you consider that the Right rarely - if ever - complains about, say, executives ripping off shareholders and harming companies' fiscal health. There wasn't a peep out of the Right, for instance, when the news division of its own paper of record - the Wall Street Journal - reported that corporate leaders now regularly raid worker pensions to pad their own salaries. Nor do you hear much from conservatives about major companies evading most of their taxes, thus draining public coffers of the funds that would allow them to fulfill their various long-term obligations.

Indeed, Will would have us believe it is a moral outrage that firefighters and policemen risking life and limb have the nerve to form unions and negotiate pay and benefits packages that are a tiny fraction of what a run-of-the-mill investment banker gets paid. Their outrage may seem like an obscene joke - but it's not. This is what today's aristocrats are really angry about.

Cross-posted from the Campaign for America's Future