In its coverage of Wisconsin, the Atlantic-- a magazine now seemingly entirely of the affluent, by the affluent, for the affluent-- has largely ignored the fact that the argument that the Wisconsin union is responsible for the budget deficit is simply not credible. (Incidentally, the average Wisconsin public pension is for less than $25,000, the large majority of which the employees have paid themselves.) Neither Andrew Sullivan nor Megan McArdle nor Clive Crook has seen fit to tell their readership that, on the deficit reduction level that they say is the impetus for their feelings, the union has indicated its willingness to concede to the governor's demands. (Sullivan, in his usual admirable way, has let his readers do some of the talking for him.) This is to say nothing of the fact that Wisconsin's public pensions are among the healthiest in the nation.
The union is holding out against the governor's absurd, antidemocratic opposition to the elementary rights of free assembly, free association, and the right to negotiate the conditions of ones own employment. Additionally, the naked partisan nature of this bill has gone unreported at the august Atlantic; they fail to inform you that police, firefighter, and other public sector employees have been exempted from the bill. Groups perceived as Democrat groups are being punished, groups perceived as Republican are getting a pass, and yet the illusion of "deficit reduction" is maintained at the Atlantic. I maintain respect enough for Sullivan and Megan to ask... what is going on here?
For these bloggers to have rested their arguments on the notion of deficit reduction and failed to make central that the union is not responsible for the deficit is charitably a great oversight; uncharitably, an ugly act of intellectual dishonesty. For them to praise the governor for his supposed toughness as he exempts his political constituents is a frankly incredible omission. .
If you want to close budget deficits, of course, you know where the money is: the rich people have it. As Robert Reich points out, "[i]f the earnings of the 13 top-earning hedge fund managers were taxed as ordinary income, instead of as capital gains, the revenues generated would pay the salary and benefits of over 5 million teachers." But to advocate taking money from those who already have more than they need would be to walk back from the magazine's recent commitment to standing as a vehicle purely dedicated to the desires of the ruling class.
I have read the Atlantic for the entirety of my adult life. There are some ways in which I still believe that it means something as an entity. In the cynical world of blogging, I fight for my right to remain capable of being inspired. But the process through which all elite media is captured by the ruling class has never been more obvious and apparent than in this case. People who know things tell me that bloggers in the Atlantic's stable do very, very well for themselves financially. The magazine is owned by an absurdly wealthy individual. It's blogging stable consists of one truly, unapologetically left-wing voice, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and he very rarely writes about domestic economic policy. The other nominally "left" voices at the Atlantic are precisely the kind of market-worshiping neoliberals who will constantly attack the ability of working class people to improve their lives.
Andrew Sullivan has been better to me than I could possibly have asked or expected any figure in the media to be. But I fear he is danger of revealing himself to be a man with limitless sympathy for Middle Eastern workers and none whatsoever for American workers. Look to Wisconsin: the Koch brothers and their cronies enrich themselves beyond the dreams of any thousand ordinary Americans, then do everything they can to prevent working class people in their state from improving the material conditions of their lives. And I want to ask the people at the Atlantic: where does it end? Workers have taken it on the chin for thirty years. Where is the limit? How much of this society's bounty can be captured for the very few? What possible recourse do working class people have to pursue what we once called the American dream under these conditions? And why are journalists and bloggers entitled to tony apartments and townhouses in DC, while teachers in Wisconsin should give up their retirement benefits and health care?
This is not just an important moment. It is a foundational moment, and one that reveals the basic character of the people who talk about it. I may just be foolish enough to believe that the magazine and the people who work for it have the integrity to prove me wrong.