Columns » Boomer with Attitude

Stop the public employee bashing



People, we have to straighten out our conflicting attitudes toward public employees. Are teachers, police officers, firefighters, et al. dedicated, underpaid public heroes — as we've been repeatedly told most of our lives? Or are they greedy, overpaid leeches, as the conservative media's message machine is busily telling its followers in the wake of Wisconsin's government showdown? They can't be both at the same time. It's a debate worth having locally, as too many of our teachers are being fired and many of our police officers have to moonlight as security guards to make ends meet. But debate or no debate, we need to make up our minds about these folks, because meanwhile, the rhetoric from the right-wing echo chamber is getting crazier.

If there was any doubt left about the Limbaugh/FoxNews axis' shameless marketing of Republican talking points, it has disappeared during the disputes between Wisconsin's new Tea Partyin' governor, Scott Walker, and unionized public employees. By this point in its history, I fully expected the Foxoids to bash the public employee unions, which have been a favorite right-wing whipping boy for years. What I didn't expect, however, was for conservative broadcasters to attack public employees themselves, whether unionized or not. Guess I underestimated their shamelessness.

From the start of the Wisconsin stand-off, conservative media haven't made it through a whole day without slamming teachers' supposed too-high salaries, or smirking about the fact that teachers' salaries can be cut because "they don't work that hard" and, besides, "they get three months vacation." At least one Fox host said that firefighters were mostly "paid to sit around and wait for a fire," while her guest joked, "there's truth to the image of police riding around to the next doughnut shop." One Fox guest even declared that since teachers work so few hours, their positions are really just "part-time jobs." If Juan Williams hadn't been on the panel, no one from Fox would have disputed the guy's lie.

And, believe me, it was an outrageous lie. Anyone who has been involved in his or her children's CMS education knows how hard teachers work and how many extra, unpaid hours are put in — not to mention how much bureaucratic B.S. they have to put up with. When I mentioned Fox's wholesale teacher trashing to a friend, he reminded me that I shouldn't have been surprised, since "those are the same patriots who slammed 9/11 first responders [largely police and firefighters] when those heroes wanted government funds to pay for ailments they got breathing toxic dust at the WTC site."

My concern about how we see public employees didn't just arise from the Wisconsin debacle and our own county budget cutting. The key was a Tommy Tomlinson story in the daily paper about police officer Charlie Walker, who retired at age 52, after 30 years on the force — the last 15 spent walking the beat downtown. I thought, "Well, good for him. He made it through unscathed, and now he'll get to retire with a full pension. Good for him, good story." I naturally assumed that a well-written "retiring cop" story would be a big hit. But then, as if on cue, you started to hear or see people saying it's not right to pay for the officer's pension, and he should wait till he's older to collect it, otherwise he's just another public employee leech.

And then, police officer Fred Thornton lost his life when a SWAT team flash-bang grenade accidentally exploded. Local TV news stations apparently didn't get the right-wing memo about greedy public employees, because Thornton was first installed as a hero for our time, and then quickly promoted to saintly status. An Uptown memorial procession blocked streets for hours, while the funeral service went on nearly as long as Gandhi's. OK, I thought, a bit over the top, but at least no one's griping about this particular public employee. I was wrong again. On a couple of websites, Fox's computer drones came out of the woodwork, slamming Thornton — before his funeral was even finished — for making too much money, "feeding at the public trough," and so forth.

This needs to be said: These people are idiots, and insensitive idiots to boot. And not just for carping about the money paid to a retired cop and a dead SWAT team leader. They're already idiots for their endless parroting of the party line they are spoon-fed daily by the likes of Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Hannity; but they're even bigger idiots for being swayed by politically motivated corporate prostitutes like Scott Walker into bashing some of the most valued, and valuable, people in our society. Like I said, these guys are truly shameless.

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