I keep wanting to take this past year's spotlight on corporate bank bailouts and the health insurance industry as good news. You'd think it would make the brazen trashing of economic justice harder to ignore. You might even think they'd fuel the growth of a progressive majority massive and insistent enough to, say, force Congress to approve single-payer health insurance, or at a bare minimum an honest public option.
Why doesn't that happen? Wedge issues are part of the answer. And one of the most skillfully-inserted wedges in Oregon politics is still public employee compensation. Republicans have thrashed us with this one for a long time, successfully distracting a lot of voters from looking at what's actually been making them less secure. One evocative news story about generous compensation for public employees can effectively wipe out twenty about the regressiveness of Oregon taxation (yawn) or the unbroken string of goodies that Salem has handed to the big lobbies.
That's too bad. I think we have to engage with those unhappy about public employee pay. Instead of ignoring them, blasting them as anti-government trogs or trying to educate them on the fine points of 20-year-old contract provisions, can we acknowledge that they're not crazy? That was the impetus for this week's column on the recent flap over bonuses for the State Treasurer's fund managers.
I believe what I wrote there, but the larger purpose is a gesture towards pulling out this particular wedge. If the people ticked off at public employees are at all like me, they listen better after they feel listened to.