Maybe Madison is Cairo--okay, except for the snow

Paul Ryan (R.-WI) compared events in Madison this week to events in Cairo last week. Probably the most accurate observation he's made since going to DC. Here is Daniel Maguire on what is going on ( I usually disagree with Maguire, but not this time).THE AWAKENING IN MADISON WISCONSIN Daniel C. Maguire, Professor, Marquette UniversityIt has been well noted that the protest in Madison is not about the budget but about union-busting, but that is a symptom, not the root of the problem. Governor Scott Walkers project is to impose the neoliberal (neoconservative) political economy on a state that pioneered many progressive traditions and reforms. Neoliberalism (neoconservatism) is the operating system of the Right since the 1980's. Its roots go back further in the American mean-stream. It has these four characteristics:

1) It has been called a philosophy of possessive individualism. Richard Hofstadter called it beneficent cupidity Greed is good, in more modern parlance. It embodies the Social Darwinismsurvival of the fittestmentality which sees society as C.B. MacPherson said as a mass of competing dissociated individuals. Maggie Thatcher, even asserted there is no such thing as society; there are only individuals and families. If there is no society we owe society nothing and there is no such thing as social justice. And thus Glen Beck, the clown prince of neoliberalism, can urge his faithful to walk out of church if their pastor so much a mentions social justice.(2) Thomas Aquinas said that justice consists in sharing, and Aristotle said that justice holds the city together. Since government is the enforcer of the sharing (e.g. taxes, regulations, monopoly curbing) needed for the common good , neoliberalism despises it and wants to shrink it so small it could be drowned in the bathtub as one of its cute practitioners put it.A definition of government grounded in the moral traditions of Judaism and Christianity is this: government is the caretaker of the common good with a special concern for the poor and the powerless. Neoliberalism is heretical to that Judeo-Christian moral tradition.Consistent to it asocial core, neoliberalism stresses privatization, taking things out of government hands and giving them to private business. Following the neoliberal script, George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security, handing over retirement benefits to the mercy of the stock market. Water supply has in come places been privatized; airports and roads have been targeted for privatizing.(3) Neoliberalism is anti-unions. Though neoliberals laud competition, they do not want competition coming from workers whoa are reduced to human capital, making workers as discard able as a worn out machine. You dont do collective bargaining with machines. Reagan went after the air traffic controllers union. Governor Walker is going after public workers union denying them the right to collective bargaining. Its all of a piece.(4) Neoliberalism is a kind of secular religion which asks us to put our pious faith in the market and in corporations and to allow them to have unfettered freedom. The goal of every corporation of course, is profit and growth, not the common good.Not surprisingly, neoliberalism unleashed produced inequality. Not a problem, said Maggie Thatcher: It is our job to glory in inequality! She was as good as her word. In pre-Thatcher Britain, one person in ten was classes as living below the poverty line. When she finished one in four was poor and one In three children were poor. Kevin Phillips, a former aide to Richard Nixon, notes that over the decade of the 1980's wealth gushed to the top. The top 10 percent of Americans increased their average family income by 16%, the top 5 % by 23%, and the ecstatic top one percent reaped a whopping 50 percent. As economist Susan George points out, the bottom 80% all lost, and the lower you were on the scale the more you lost.The Progressive tradition of Wisconsin is not dead. It roars in the rotunda of the Capitol. On the ceiling of that rotunda is the Wisconsin version of the justice symbol. It is a woman holding scales but she is not blindfolded. She is holding the scales with a determined look on her face that seems to say: Dont you dare fuss with these scales of justice. In these heartening days one can detect a glorious hint of a smile on the strong face of Lady Justice as she looks down on workers united in spirited protests against neoliberal poisons.[email protected]

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages.

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