The language of “tough choices” threatens to make a mockery of the reckoning we face today. Not because we don’t face tough choices in the way elected officials mean that we do. And not because, a level down from policymaking, flesh and blood human beings — liberal, conservative, other — are going to have to bear the consequences of policy in their daily lives. No, the real reckoning is with each other. We can see that happening already in Wisconsin. This kind of fury — I almost said ‘divisiveness’ — is going to get worse before it gets better, because the true stakes of our reckoning are only going to grow clearer.
The clarity is going to hit simultaneously at the level of principle and of practicality. As talk turns to the ‘new class war’, the concept of a class defined not so much by its net worth or tax bracket as by its economic (and therefore political) dependence on government will sharpen step for step with the reality of this class, which will be hitting home in all its gruesome implications for those outside and inside it.
So already we can see a reactionary confusion setting in on the left. Because Republicans are going after the government class as an idea and a reality, liberals and progressives are under intense pressure to follow Roger Ebert’s lead in responding this way:
My dad was right. “The Republican Party is against the working man.”
Anyone who responds to the current crisis by anointing unionized employees of the government as the epitome of ‘the working man’ is placing themselves, and I really do not say this lightly, at the mercy of socialism — not just as an intellectual theory, but as an emotional promise of happiness. There has never been a viable, durable Labor Party in the US. But neither has the government class ever been so big or faced such an existential threat.