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Time to Stand Up for the Public Sector

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For over forty years, the right wing has mounted an irrepressible campaign to discredit the very concept of government in the United States.

It continued its campaign to demonize government even as we watched first responders --government employees -- run into the collapsing twin towers to rescue their fellow citizens on September 11, 2001. They continued to defame the concept of government in the face of daily reports of the bravery and sacrifice of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan -- all representing the Government of the United States of America.

The Right even continued this drum beat in the face of the most spectacular recent failure of its anti-public sector philosophy -- the 2008 financial collapse. They simply ignored what was obvious to the entire world: that today's economic crisis was caused by the fact that Republicans had essentially ended effective public sector oversight of the big Wall Street Banks whose greed and recklessness caused the worst economic crisis in 60 years and cost eight million Americans their jobs.

In the Republican moral universe, the private sector is good, and the public sector is evil -- it's as simple as that.

This week, the new House Republican Majority rode into Washington, DC to promote an anti-public sector agenda that is overtly aimed at shrinking the "evil" Federal government.

Progressives can no longer allow the radical right to define the concept of Government in the United States. It's time to proudly and forcefully stand up for the public sector.

The Progressive concept of government is rooted in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Wall Street banks are not instituted to secure these rights -- neither are giant international corporations, nor private insurance companies, nor big oil conglomerates. Democratic governments are instituted to protect and advance those unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Government is the vehicle through which we assure that the notion that "all men are created equal" is realized in the real world because it is the only institution in society that represents all of us, where -- at least theoretically -- every American is equal and has equal power to shape society's goals.

Government is the place where democracy lives. It is, as Congressman Barney Frank says, the name we give for the things we choose to do together.

The wealthy elites that dominate the American Right have financed the campaign to demonize government because they want the opportunity to pursue a very different group of values that have nothing to do with America's founding principles. They want the right to concentrate more and more wealth and power into their own hands.

They are not interested in "democracy" or the notion that "all men and women are created equal." They are devoted to plutocracy -- to the notion that they should have the unfettered ability to accumulate a larger and larger share of the fruits of our economy -- and more and more control over the natural resources that belong to us all.

For the last forty years, the Right's attempts to demonize government is one of the reasons why the wealthy and big Wall Street banks have been allowed to siphon off a greater and greater share of the nation's wealth from the middle class. For the last twenty years, middle class incomes have been stagnant. Every dime of economic growth has ultimately flowed to the top 2% of the population.

Today the distribution of wealth is more polarized than at any other time since 1928. Today, the top one percent of the population controls as much total wealth as does the bottom 90%.

The Right's campaign to demonize government was intended to create the backdrop for its successful attempts to end the oversight of the big Wall Street banks that had prevented a recurrence of the Great Depression for more than 50 years. They wanted to be free to make huge sums of money through speculation and financial schemes that allowed them unimaginable rates of return -- but risked the stability of the entire economy.

They succeeded in eliminating that oversight. They gambled on everything -- with everyone else's money. They collapsed the economy, they got bailed out -- and many of them are still raking in multimillion dollar bonuses while millions of their victims remain unemployed.

Now one of the key items of the Republican agenda is to eviscerate the newly-passed Wall Street Reform legislation that is one of the most important accomplishments of the Obama Administration and Democratic Congress.

But that's not all. The new Republican House majority wants to repeal the health care reform law to allow private insurance companies once again to have free rein to deny care to those with preexisting conditions, revoke coverage when people get sick, and raise rates whenever they please. They rail against the cost of health care while protecting a bloated private sector system that requires that Americans pay twice as much per capita for health care than the citizens of any other industrial democracy -- and get health care outcomes that rank only 37th in the world.

The Republicans want to pass new legislation easing the way for states to file for bankruptcy so they can void union contracts, and cut public services.

They have passed new "cut-as-you-go" rules for the House which require that in order to spend a new dollar on a critical public service, the new expenditure must be paid for by a cut in some other expenditure -- never by any increase in revenue.

Worse, their rules do not require that tax cuts -- including tax cuts for the rich -- be paid for by anything. So much for their alleged concern for the deficit.

In fact, the Right has never really been concerned about the deficit. Remember that only a decade ago, the Federal Government had budget surpluses as far as the eye could see. But beginning in 2001, the Bush Administration and Republican Congress cut taxes for the rich and launched two unpaid-for wars that created a ballooning Federal deficit. Right wing leader Grover Norquist was quite explicit that the Republicans created that deficit intentionally to generate the political and financial pressure to shrink the role of government.

And, of course, the Right has never let the facts stand in its way. You have to admire how brazenly they are willing to distort reality. Republicans argue daily that cutting government spending -- even in the near term -- will create jobs, when from an economic point of view exactly the opposite is true.

Virtually every mainstream economist in America agrees that funds for unemployment compensation, infrastructure projects, food stamps, funding to prevent the layoffs of teachers, and firefighters and police officers are the best ways to create jobs -- and multiples of economic activity, since expenditures are used by everyday consumers to buy products and services from businesses in local communities.

And one thing we have learned all over again as a result of the 2008 economic collapse: a strong, vibrant public sector is necessary to assure a strong, vibrant private sector.

For the private sector to prosper, countries need an economic environment that includes high-quality public education, safe secure communities, an effective health care system, and an efficient transportation and communications infrastructure. A strong public sector is necessary to provide that environment.

And a clear, strong set of rules is necessary to prevent powerful economic elites from engaging in activity that threatens the entire economy -- and to create clear expectations that allow entrepreneurs to make long-term investments with confidence. All of that requires a strong public sector.

In fact, a strong public sector is necessary to assure competitive markets that would otherwise be dominated by the largest, most powerful economic actors.

Progressives believe that there is an important role for private markets and private economic activity -- and that there is also an indispensable role for public sector economic activity.

Intentional attempts by the Republican right to demonize and weaken government do not ultimately strengthen the private sector in America. Individual actors may strengthen their own domination of our economy and society -and concentrate wealth in their own hands. But the long-term effect -- as we have seen over the last two years -- is to weaken private sector economic activity and destroy the quality of our lives.

In fact, long-term economic growth requires widely-shared economic growth. It requires a strong middle class that has money in its pockets to buy products and services. Widely-shared economic growth does not happen if the wealthiest corporations are allowed to use their disproportionate economic power to dominate our economy and society. Only a strong public sector can assure widely-shared prosperity.

Finally, we must remember that the public sector is the one place in society where -- at least in theory -- all of us participate as equals. For over two centuries America has struggled to perfect its government to actually embody that ideal. The Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case that allowed corporations to spend unlimited sums on elections - and conferred on them even more rights of "personhood" -- was a blow to making that ideal a reality. But if we are ever to make that democratic ideal a reality, it will only be through government. Every person does not stand as an equal in the private sector economic marketplace. We each cast our "dollar votes," which vary enormously between us -- and are concentrated in the hands of giant conglomerates or Wall Street banks.

But we do stand equal before the ballot box. And we can work to make us all equal in our access to public education, or health care, or public services -- when it comes to the baseline access to the resources that are necessary for each of us to fulfill our potential and exercise actual freedom.

Only democratic government can make that happen, and it is time for us to stand up for democratic government with the same ardor as those who first wrote that to protect our unalienable rights, governments are instituted among men.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.