It is very easy to say that we are in an economic crisis and that there is a need to make changes in government budgets at all levels, from the state capitals to Capitol Hill. Some of the choices involved are tough ones, including those proposed by President Obama in his version of the 2012 budget.
However, many people are asking: How far is too far? For those who may feel left out of the revolutionary spirit that we are seeing in North Africa, a spirit of revolution has also been brewing here in the United States because of the economic crisis that has gripped us since 2008.
Now that Republicans have taken over many important political seats in the aftermath of last fall’s elections, that spirit is rising to even higher levels. Republicans in power have a new task: fulfilling the promises made to politically active conservatives who put them in office, while guiding an anxious populace through a turbulent time.
So far, Republicans are meeting the challenge with mixed results. Cognizant that the Tea Party wave that put many Republicans into office is looking for deep spending cuts that reflect the movement’s philosophical approach to government, conservative populist leaders such as New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker have taken on unions and the negotiated agreements that now threaten to bankrupt their states. Republicans on Capitol Hill (led by Speaker of the House John Boehner) are proposing cuts that could jeopardize at-risk Americans in education.
However, are all of the targeted Republican cuts and actions necessary? There is a clear need to make unpopular cuts that will ruffle feathers at all levels of society. All politicians realize this. President Obama was no exception, with his proposed cuts to Pell grants that have helped low-income students attend college.
Some Republican leaders, though, are going to such lengths that many Americans are beginning to question the direction of government. Ironically, many of those opposing the thrust of Republican leadership are doing so in a tone that resembles the angst of Tea Partiers just two years ago — and, further still, an anger similar to that of the grassroots movement on the other side of the Atlantic.
Those who don’t believe that the rush on Madison, Wis., this week to protest Walker’s proposal to eliminate the collective-bargaining rights of Wisconsin teachers was inspired by both the Tea Party movement and the Egyptian revolution undervalue the power of new media in the 21st century, as well as the frustration of people globally with the status quo in politics. This is a lesson that Republicans must heed quickly before they become victims of the very wave that helped them win power: People will no longer take the patient path and wait for results.
Americans are anxious for changes that improve their collective lot. Like people overseas who protested for change, Americans are no longer interested in watching political machination or philosophies dictate policy, particularly at a time when cronyism has played such a key role in creating the conditions that people from Egypt to Eau Claire are facing now.
Republicans’ actions to rein in spending would not face such opposition if the proposed budget cuts did not so closely reflect the GOP’s recent history of ignoring the practical realities facing urban residents. Scaling back the economic pressures that unions impose on state budgets could be negotiated and justified as a necessary evil in these economic times, if the actions of Christie (who continues to look to freeze teachers’ salaries in New Jersey) and Walker at the bureaucratic level of education were not accompanied by proposals within the Republican Continuing Resolution to eliminate programs that directly affect students, particularly funding for higher education.