Higgins: Political PrestidigitationWritten by Tim Higgins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
With the labor demonstrations going on in state capitals around the nation, we are once more regaled with the entertainment (similar to that of reality shows) that’s always provided whenever large groups of people gather in public places in the presence of cameras. And while many of those gathering do so with good intent, true purpose, and what they believe is a worthy cause; many others carry signs and shout at the top of their lungs simply seeking their fifteen minutes of fame in a macabre combination of ‘American Idol’ and ‘Stupid Human Tricks’.
Because this involves laws passed by our government at some level, we are likewise exposed to a sort of dysfunctional square dance, where legislators find themselves doing a ‘dosey doe’ with both constituents and reporters as they balance the need for re-election with the desire for the kind of national exposure that most see as a route to career advancement.
Lost sometimes in all of this is the fact that much of the entire farce is little more than a magic act being put on for our edification and entertainment. Sure the union employees getting sweetheart contracts of wages and benefits can be demonized because of it. Certainly today’s state legislatures are now faced with increasing deficits and therefore are now forced to make tough choices. Yes, Republican (and sometimes even Conservative) politicians took control in many of those elections. Of course politicians are beholden to special interest groups who support them, whether they are corporations, unions, or special interest groups and sometimes vote accordingly.
All of this however distracts attention from the fact that while some part of the growing budget woes facing cities and states are unfunded pension plans and lavish medical benefits granted to public sector unions, it was these self-same elected officials (or their predecessors) that granted these boons. It’s also that same government that chose to spend the tax money coming in for years on things other than properly funding those plans.
Of course now that it’s in the public eye, there are conservative politicians attempting to distract us by demonizing the unions as greedy and overreaching; but carefully, as they may want the support of at least some in the next election. Unions meanwhile, more openly castigate those conservative politicians in spite of the fact that their votes can hurt their members. They instead choose to divert attention characterizing the debate as an attack on working families, while duplicitously ignoring that other working families are forced to contribute their own limited wealth in taxes to those getting more than they do.
Both efforts serve superbly as the magician’s distraction for these sideshow sorcerers. For nowhere in this carefully scripted stage act of sacrifice and tough choices is anyone asking how this was allowed to happen in the first place.
Why were city and state governments not putting the funds into these plans required to properly fund them in their budgetary processes in the first place?
Why were such employees offered pensions rather than contributory 401k plans like their counterparts in the private sector?
Why were retirement practices not set in keeping with the public sector, if not with the rules of Social Security?
Why were changes in retirement and medical benefit packages not made (for new employees at the very least) simultaneously with those going on in the private sector?
Perhaps more importantly, why are not these same legislators (also government employees) voting to give up some of their own exorbitant salaries, lavish medical benefits, and retirement packages in the name of logic and consistency where such ‘critical budget issues’ are concerned?
The reason of course is yet another masterful performance of legislative legerdemain. Having distracted their audience with mass demonstrations, circus-like legislative antics, and with the apparently willing cooperation of the mainstream media, these carnival conjurers have kept us from noticing that they are doing nothing more than attempting to solve problems that they caused in the first place. What’s worse, these government illusionists actually expect acclamation for their sub par subterfuge and shabby tricks in doing so.
If we must give credit to these middling efforts, let’s at least do so for the performance we are actually receiving. Rather than rendering up applause to these mediocre magicians for a job well done, let’s recognize them for what they are, a dodge and diversion attempting to gain credit for filling in the hole that they themselves dug. Instead of providing a standing ovation for those who are not medicine men, but snake-oil peddles; let’s acknowledge that it was their financial procrastination and mismanagement that forced them into their current career of political prestidigitation.