08/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Tea Bagging California

As the California budget crisis continues to be a showdown between a recalcitrant Executive and a weak-kneed Legislature, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, discussing the merciless state budget cuts he has proposed, insisted to Mark Leibovich of the New York Times Magazine (July 5, 2009): "I see the faces behind those dollars. I see the children whose teachers will be laid off. I see the Alzheimer's patients losing some of their in-home support services." But Schwarzenegger's attempt to exploit the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression to "eliminate" health and human services programs that have, in some cases, existed for decades, belies the notion that he has any sense of empathy for those who are unfortunate enough to find themselves on the receiving end of his budgetary axe. He's acting.

"Our wallet is empty," Schwarzenegger also said. That might be true. But why does he include himself? He who commutes to Sacramento in his private jet? "Our credit is dried up," he adds. Yeah, coming from the guy who plunged the state into fiscal chaos by squashing three bills that would have temporarily shored up California's finances. He added $7 billion to the deficit, tanked the state's bond rating, and forced California to pay its bills with IOUs for only the third time its history. And now Schwarzenegger whines about how California's credit has "dried up?"

The mass job lay-offs that have accelerated markedly since September have erased every single net job created in the nation's economy over the past nine years. That's a pretty damn serious economic downturn. Californians working in the private sector have seen their 401ks and pensions swallowed up or rendered valueless, their jobs eliminated, downsized, or outsourced, their homes foreclosed on, and their health care stripped away. Public sector workers have been "furloughed" and now Schwarzenegger and the Republicans want to swallow up the public pensions and bust the public employee unions.

During this budget impasse, Schwarzenegger is doing everything possible to bend public opinion against labor unions, especially public employee unions. He's vilifying people who work for state, county, or municipal governments (with a huge assist from the right-wing radio shock jocks representing the Tea Bagger set). And he's hoping to fuse this hatred with the deep-seated unpopularity of the legislature, a branch of government in which the Democrats hold the majority but in reality a Republican minority rules with a heavy hand. Just look at the fourteen GOP senators who snuffed out the stopgap measures Democrats worked hard to put together to buy time so budget negotiations could continue without making the fiscal crisis even worse. Schwarzenegger and his Republican colleagues chose to worsen the crisis in the name of crass political gamesmanship.

And who are the people the Tea Baggers, right-wing radio talkers, and the state's Republican representatives hate so much? It seems to run something like this:

They hate labor unions.

They really hate public sector labor unions.

They hate state, county, and municipal workers (because they're "lazy").

They really hate state, county, and municipal workers who belong to labor unions.

They really, really hate teachers (because they "don't teach" and they're "politically correct").

They really, really, really hate teachers who work in the public schools.

And they really, really, really, really hate teachers who work in public schools who belong to labor unions.

See how it works?

These are the "special interests" that Schwarzenegger prattles on about even while he pretends to "see the faces" of teachers and other public employees to whom he's giving the shaft.

The private sector economic crisis has produced a lot of misplaced anger out there among white working people and the Republicans are doing everything they can to direct that anger away from their own misrule and toward other working people who glean their livelihoods from the public sector.

But there's also a national component to Schwarzenegger's brinkmanship. California Republicans, including their "celebrated" governor, are heavily invested in President Barack Obama's political failure. They're using their power over the purse strings to punish public employees and dismantle as much of the public sector they can get away with knowing full well that it undermines Obama's stated goals for the economic stimulus package. The President wants to prop up and invest in public institutions and public infrastructure as a countercyclical, Keynesian spending effort to "prime the pump" (or at least try to offset the hemorrhaging of jobs from the private sector that has continued since December 2007).

They know that every public dollar slashed and every public employee laid-off or "furloughed" in the nation's most economically important state is another obstacle to Obama getting the economy moving again and thereby maintaining his popularity. In 2010 and in 2012, the Republicans are going to point to the economy and deem all of Obama's efforts a "failure." Just as many of the neo-cons seemingly cross their fingers hoping for a mass-casualty terrorist attack on U.S. soil because they see it as political gold for them, they're also cheerleading for the economy to remain stagnant because it will (or so they think) politically rejuvenate the Republican Party.