Rahm Emanuel, mayor elect of Chicago, famously said ““You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Conservatives made a lot of silly hay out of this (this one claimed that the economy would probably “recover on its own”) but Emanuel was, as usual, simply being ironic and blunt about political reality. In particular, he meant that the financial crisis allowed the administration to introduce regulations– and stimulus money– that it could not do otherwise.
I don’t think the Obama administration has gone far enough with financial regulations, or stimulus, but the point remains: we hate regulations until the economy collapses, and then we bemoan their absence like a long lost lover. The politically unfeasible is now politically necessary. That’s what the Republicans believe justify their ongoing attacks on workplace democracy, including legislation in Ohio that specifically targets faculty unions. It’s Big Lie rhetoric.
In fact, polls show that the public disagrees with the attacks on collective bargaining. Perhaps as a result, the governor of Wisconsin seems poised to negotiate the very compromise that he said he would never accept. The real crisis, I think, which I hope the unions in particular will take advantage of, is the sense of powerlessness that a majority of Americans feel, as their standard– and quality– of living continues to erode. It’s not just jobs.
It’s a long term structural problem created by more than three decades of income redistribution from the poor, working and middle classes, to the rich. The attempt to destroy the public sector unions– the last bastion of real power for working people– has been the final straw for many people. We cannot fix the budget problems unless we begin to revitalize democracy via card check reform and address the taxation inequities that have created the mess.