Don’t Fall For Arnold’s Wedge

Facing a growing revolt over his previous budget cuts, including the devastating cuts to public schools, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May Revise 2010 takes a very different approach to insane and reckless spending cuts than was proposed back in 2009. Understanding this difference is key to defeating him.

In 2009, Arnold’s cuts hit everyone, and hit everyone hard. Well, everyone except the rich, who Arnold believes should be immune from being asked to contribute to solving the budget crisis. The middle-class saw services cut, particularly schools. State parks were slated for closure, and local government funds were stolen.

In response, a backlash has formed here in 2010 on all fronts. Proposals such as AB 656 (oil severance tax for higher ed) and the simply brilliant Stop the Cuts video starring Megan Fox and denouncing education cuts are just two pieces of a much broader public revolt against education cuts that’s brewing. Another overt cut to education would have turned that revolt into a major political force that would threaten the low-tax privileges of the wealthy.

And while schools are still getting hit – they need restored funds, and without federal stimulus aid Arnold’s 2010-11 budget is a de facto cut to schools below their 2009-10 allotment – Arnold isn’t cutting any deeper, realizing that a middle-class revolt against Republicans and against budget cuts would be very bad for the right-wing shock doctrine agenda.

Similarly, state parks are going to get full funding, after a year where mass closure was proposed. That mass closure fueled a state parks initiative, based on a John Laird proposal, that would increase the vehicle license fee to fund state parks AND let Californians go to the parks for free. Another cut to the state parks budget would have guaranteed that initiative’s success (it’s likely to pass anyway), just as another raid on local government funding would guarantee passage of a new initiative to permanently ban state raids on such local funds.

And all of this has begun to fuel widespread public support for rolling back the corporate tax breaks that were scandalously demanded and won by Arnold during the 2008 and 2009 budget deals. Worth noting, of course, that Meg Whitman wants to enact similar tax breaks should she become governor.

What this shows is that the way to counter a right-wing shock doctrine is to reject it, say “no” and organize people to fight back at the ballot box. Facing this revolt, Arnold has taken a very different approach to his 2010-11 budget: hurt the poor.

Now it must be said that it’s not just the poor who will suffer under this budget. But the budget cuts are quite obviously calculated to hit those Californians without a voice, who are seen as marginal, whose funding can be cut with the least public outcry. The elderly who will lose some or all of their IHSS benefits and the children who will lose health care services are not necessarily “poor”; those cuts will hit the middle-class as well.

But the biggest cut, the elimination of CalWORKS, is designed to wedge the middle-class and the working- and underclass apart from each other. It’s a replay of the “demonize the poor” tactic that worked so well for Reagan in the ’80s and Republicans in the ’90s. Arnold is implicitly telling the middle-class “either you screw these poor families or we’re cutting something you want” and counting on the middle-class to react the same way they did in the ’80s and ’90s – by saying “go ahead, we won’t stop you.”

CalWORKS is itself a shell of its former self. Cuts in 2008 and 2009 have already reduced the maximum grant to a lower number than a family could receive in 1989, despite the fact that the cost of living is much higher today – and despite the fact that we’re in a recession. The elimination of CalWORKS and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families is going to cause widespread suffering among many families, especially to children, and will make it more difficult for many Californians to find work, dragging down our state’s economic recovery and in turn worsening the budget deficit.

We can’t fall for Arnold’s wedge. Arnold is shifting tactics because he’s scared of us – scared of the public reaction against three years of austerity. Now is the time to ramp up the attack on that austerity, to move beyond tired old Reaganite claims that there’s some difference between the needs of the middle-class and the needs of the poor. Many middle-class families have benefited from the very safety net programs Arnold now proposes to cut or eliminate, and many more middle-class families benefit – at their jobs and businesses – from less fortunate families having at least some state assistance.

One of the scariest things to a Republican – especially a corporate Republican like Arnold Schwarzenegger – is an alliance of the middle-class, the working-class, and the poor against their policies that favor the rich. Austerity budgets are merely reinforcing the fact that those groups see they have common interests, especially as 30 years of neoliberal economics have begun to obliterate the old divides between the non-wealthy classes as everyone is watching their standards of living fall, watching their future evaporate before their eyes.

We’ve got Arnold on the run. Now is the time to come together to defeat him and his budget plans for good. Californians want prosperity, not austerity. Let’s give it to them.

4 thoughts on “Don’t Fall For Arnold’s Wedge”

  1. when i saw the “no education cuts in the press release.” he’s clearly angling to sucker democrats into demanding smaller cuts in CALWORKS and then agreeing to balance that by cutting some out of education, so the GOP can run on the chutzpah of “democrats cut your kids’ schools.”

    don’t fall for it (again), dems.  

  2. thanks robert for blogging about this. is there someone organizing against these cuts?

  3. It’s a replay of the “demonize the poor” tactic that worked so well for Reagan in the ’80s and Republicans in the ’90s.

     Cruickshank doesn’t mention that the “poor” are really minorities–for example, only about 8% of whites live in poverty (and they are primarily in rural areas) whereas it is double to triple that for minorities.  From Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” to Willie Horton to McCain’s claim that Obama wanted to “take money from you and give it to other groups”, the Republican strategy has been to run against blacks, and now that many of them are doing reasonably well (see our President), Latinos (see Arizona).

     Does it matter? Well, let’s see-about half the students in California schools are Latino, so, if we want a middle class in the next 30 years, we’d better put money into education.  Republicans have gutted infrastructure through “starving the beast”, and education is infrastructure.

     All this being said, the Democrats should just draw a line in the sand and say “No.”  Schools not opening would be a wonderful wake-up call to the middle class about what’s at stake and also it would make great fodder for debates this fall.   Recall in the last budget crisis, support for amending the 2/3rd’s rule on revenues approached a plurality.  The destruction of the state by 1/3rd of the population should be enough to convince the middle third that minority-rule is a bad idea.

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