This one’s going to be long, folks, so buckle up. And let’s just get to the TL;DR right here: the GOP wants to cast your decision to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 as your personal moral failure. All this we have to let the economy open up safely stuff happening in Harrisburg, other legislatures, and the DC pit of cravenness? It’s part of a long game that is absolutely, 100% not in your favor and cares not one whit about safety and, instead, is part of a steady, coordinated attack on the well-being of regular folks to benefit (drumroll) super-duper rich people. Not you. And any politician pushing it is, well, not in your corner. Whether through ignorance or cruelty, they abet a system that counts your body and your mind as expendable parts of a machine designed to net massive profits for…let me say this again…not. you.
Part I: The Legislation. Let’s focus just on Harrisburg, because that’s the place where I’m trying to head, where the politics are most pertinent to our lived, daily lives in the 6th, and where our feckless incumbent plies his trade. Trade probably isn’t the word. Fills a seat, perhaps. Anyway. The Bill is SB 613, which was taken up in the House for final votes on April 14th, pushed forward by the GOP in strict partisan form by a 107-95 vote. The quick and dirty description of the bill is that it would bypass Governor Wolf’s essential-businesses-only Covid-19 response and force the Commonwealth to follow what GOP reps keep calling the “federal list” for what businesses can be open.
Point A: There’s no list. Really. Look for one. You won’t find it. Just some relatively vague guidelines that reduce essentially to, all businesses can be open if they follow some equally vague suggestions about social distancing and worker safety. Both of these points are crucial. Don’t forget ’em.
Point B: If you take the time to look at the voting session record for SB 613 in the House on April 14, something I’d wager the GOP really, really doesn’t want you to do (so tick ’em off and read them here), you’ll see that several versions of the bill came up for vote with Democratic amendments. They were all voted down in…wait for it…strictly partisan form. What were these amendments? Oh, things like actually guaranteeing worker safety. The amendments included guaranteed sick leave, increased minimum wage for workers toiling on these pandemic frontlines, the required supplying of protective equipment for those workers. Since these amendments were from the Democrats and, probably more so, because they would force newly-opened businesses to actually weigh whether being open while protecting people was actually worth it, economically (it isn’t, economically or morally), the GOP majority squashed them. Because the part of their desire to let the economy open up safely that they actually don’t believe in is “safely.” Sure, they’ll say they care about safety, but they refuse to legislate safety for workers. Safety, you see, isn’t profitable.
Point C: When we start putting these things together, we can see that the GOP drops some disingenuous language into their PR around a bill that boils down to: open the economy, whatever it takes. People are on their own for safety. Which is to say — and this is the shocker, right? — they don’t care about the safety of Pennsylvania workers, just that the economy opens. Just that profits again flow to the people who enjoy them. Which, another surprise, is not you.
Interlude: I keep typing the letters GOP, followed by some heavy criticism, and that pains me a little, because I want to be clear that I am not opposed to the Republican Party per se. The one that counts Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and several intelligent, compassionate members of my family as members. That Republican Party is/was noble, and full of integrity, and while it might still have argued with me about some finer points of policy, it would have done so without the wholesale absence of substance that currently exists as an absolute insult to the GOP of yore. I long for the return of that GOP. So, for the rest of this piece I’m going to call this new profanation of the GOP the Alt-GOP.
Point D: The Governor vetoed SB 613, which the Alt-GOP totally knew would happen. And they moaned that the Governor has no right! Even though the Constitution totally allows it, and for which the looooong history of American state-level government shows plenty of precedent. Still, even before this veto happened, our local incumbent offered a public pondering on the merits of everyone just ignoring the Governor’s legal emergency stay-at-home orders. Oh yeah, our incumbent led that pondering with a throw away, “I am not promoting this but I am not preventing it either,” before going on to totally promote it. Later, when someone called him out on his call to law-breaking, he sputtered that she should read his first five words, as they put him totally in the clear. His other 451 words, which were all about the horror of liberal Democrats and, even worse, moderate Republicans (see Footnote1), just happen to make a case for defying public health guidelines against Commonwealth law. But he said just kidding before pulling the fire alarm in the crowded theater, so it’s okay!
Footnote 1: Our incumbent rep sees the remnants of the old GOP that actually governed responsibly as an obstacle to his vision of Pennsylvania. Think about that if you count yourself as a moderate Republican, who uses your mind to consider issues, and who cares about Northwest PA. The incumbent in the 6th discounts your worth as much as he discounts the worth of anyone who dares be a Democrat or Independent or Green.
Point D2: The Alt-GOP knew Wolf would veto this bill, and probably hoped so, because they knew they couldn’t overturn the veto, and they knew a veto would put a two week delay on any implementation of the plan that they know is a terrible affront to public health (why else would they be wearing masks and practicing social distancing themselves, many of them voting from home electronically, on that very day?). They did this because a) once Wolf vetoed they could blame the Democrats for not opening the economy safely, even though the Alt-GOP doesn’t care about the safety (see Point B), and they know opening the economy and putting people at risk is probably bad for, y’know, the economy. They did it so they could blame the Democrats. And then, if things miraculously get better on the health front, and Wolf safely and wisely opens the economy, the Alt-GOP can say, We made that happen! We told you! And if things don’t get better on the health front, and we continue staying safely at home, they can…again…practice their tried and (not)true political strategy of blaming Democrats. That’s their platform.
Part II: Where We Think About the History of Alt-GOP Initiatives That Connect To This Moment In Time When Soulless Politicians Take Advantage of A Public Health Crisis To Make Political Hay At Your Expense
Item a) The Alt-GOP has long fought to align public assistance with moral failure. This is not shocking news. They hate “welfare” and love to claim that scores of people on unemployment are milking the system. Honest people work. Only dishonest people leeching from the system don’t work. That’s their mantra.
Implication a1) If the Alt-GOP “allows” businesses to re-open during a public health crisis, and then someone decides it is unsafe to work and stays on unemployment (which is mercifully allowed under current Covid-19 guidelines), the Alt-GOP can call that person a moral failure, because they “refuse” to work. It’s that simple. If people can work, because businesses are open, and they don’t work because they’re not stupid and don’t want to risk the health of the community to chase a buck, the Alt-GOP can castigate them and, more than likely, seek to remove their unemployment benefits. Put even more directly, this is precisely where the Alt-GOP plays a gambit that equates the protection of public health as a personal moral failure. This is where you get lines like this one from the Texas Lt. Governor: “there are more important things than living.”
Implication a2) If the Alt-GOP “allows” businesses to re-open during a public health crisis, and a business decides it is unsafe to be open, that it wants to protect its workers, the Alt-GOP can call them a moral failure. Plus, there’s a strong chance that said business’s stop-loss insurance will not apply because they can be open and choose not to. Plus plus, said business could be putting their own Covid-19 related unemployment protections in jeopardy, if the interpretation of “allowed” to open suddenly, mysteriously, exempts a person from applying for that aid.
Implications a1) + a2) The Alt-GOP has thus offered a “choice” to “allow” businesses to open and to “allow” workers to work which, in fact, forces businesses to open or risk going broke and forces workers to make a choice between getting sick or going broke. It might even force a choice between going to work against a worker’s own best judgement or risk being fired from that job for refusing to show up. And, when you get fired, you can’t claim unemployment. Get it? It’s grotesque. It’s what they’re doing.
Squinting at a1) + a2) It’s almost like the Alt-GOP wants to pass legislation that undermines public assistance and throws a bone to Big Insurance. Couldn’t be, though, right?
Squinting again: It’s almost like the Alt-GOP would rather completely destroy the Commonwealth’s very reason for existing, to eliminate the power of the state to protect Pennsylvanians in the interest of the common good, and instead remove public health and worker protections by making pandemic work a “choice.” Yeah, it is that.
Side note a) This will surprise you. One of the Democratic amendments that the PA Alt-GOP blocked in the House? It would have prevented retribution against workers that choose to stay off work for reasons of reasonable fear of sickness.
Item b) The Alt-GOP hates public education. Vehemently. They love to undermine it whenever they can.
Item c) The Alt-GOP hates agency for women, and cannot bear living in a world where women are granted the right to make their own choices about their own bodies.
Item d) The Alt-GOP hates the environment, because clean air and water are apparently bad for business, and even though the conservation of our natural resources saves money and makes people healthier, said conservation prevents short term profit for companies that want to make a quick buck by, like, poisoning us and leaving billions of dollars of public liability leaking methane across the state.
Item e) Would it surprise you to know that the PA Alt-GOP wanted to sneak in a surprise attack on education funding (it never came up, because the moderate Republicans our incumbent despises recognize the importance of local control of strong public education), did sneak in a backdoor attack on reproductive rights, and did move forward with bills undermining environmental conservation, all under the guise of a Covid-19 response?
Item f) It would not surprise you, because you understand the wise words of Maya Angelou, who told us: When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
Conclusion: If You’re Still Reading, Thanks.
The kicker: pay attention to the echoes across state legislatures. Pay attention to how the current bluster about fiscal responsibility and economic reality is just a cover for the same old same old modern Alt-GOP attack on education, women, environment, and workers. These politicians don’t actually care about the you part of getting you back to work. They care about how you produce wealth for the wealthy companies and billionaires who, right now, though personally unaffected by the crippling weight of wage loss, really don’t like not making money. On your back.
Plus this: a humane response to this public health crisis would have seen legislators working hard 1) to provide ongoing public assistance for everyone, so that workers could stay home without going broke and feeling the pinch; 2) to freeze rents and mortgage payments during the epidemic (if you’re worried about landlord impact, see item 1 in this list); 3) to protect front line workers from exploitation and harm; 4) to recognize the need for universal healthcare.
What we get instead is politicians using a crisis to kick us in the shins. Then asking us to applaud them for doing it.