Since I’m already talking city council this week, it’s as good a time as any to tackle the elephant in the room- Carl DeMaio.
If Donna Frye has exemplified non-partisan pragmatism, DeMaio is the polar opposite. He has proven to be fundamentally driven by an anti-government, pro-corporatist ideology straight out of the Norquist drown-government-in-a-bathtub instruction book. And it works, partly because there’s no coherent counterpoint being offered, and partly because it’s so good at proving itself. The formula is extremely simple, and Republicans in recent years have lathered, rinsed, and repeated across the country: Run for office on a platform that government can’t fix problems, win office, refuse to fix anything, be right. As an added bonus, in San Diego as most places, it’s much easier to obstruct than to govern- particularly if that’s your only goal.
And DeMaio’s goal is essentially that simple. Having founded two multi-million dollar companies by age 30 and then selling them, DeMaio is now desperate to pull up the ladder behind him. Without a doubt he’s earned his money (don’t ask him how much though, he doesn’t like that), but it means that if his personal fortune hasn’t already set him up for life, he’s plugged deep enough into the GOP welfare machine to ensure he’ll be fine. So it’s patently absurd when he claims shared sacrifice on principle by passing up his city pension. Even if he puts a principled dress on it, his sacrifice simply isn’t commensurate with the average city employee any more than Jay Leno giving up one car is the same as me giving up one car. I only have one.
The foundation of his budget reform plan is that public employees are overcompensated and city services should be privatized. Overcompensated relative to private employees, privatize city services because it’s cheaper. Private sector compensation and billing have dropped dramatically in recent years because private enterprise ran amok, destroyed the economy, and has been forced into layoffs, pay reductions and price cuts to stay afloat.
In other words, DeMaio’s plan is that since the private sector has performed so poorly, it’s now our government’s responsibility to mirror its failures and give it more control. And as a result, services should be lower quality, compensation across the city should drop further, and to prepare for retirement people should utilize the market that just destroyed the retirement plans of millions of Americans.
Even shorter, that the failure of the private market justifies doubling down to cement that failure and trap as many as possible in that failure. His goal is failure; To reward failure and encourage deeper failure.
Why? Because when more people make less money and lead lower-quality lives, they’re easier to control and it’s more profitable to the rich. The middle class is where the next round of millionaires will come from, so it’s important to cut them off early if your goal is to protect the castle. The fewer “haves” there are, the more they each get to actually have, and that’s DeMaio’s actual constituency.
Despite dressing up his objections in carefully crafted reform language, DeMaio is the obvious heir to the Target: San Diego legacy, complete with the deep institutional connections of a GOP lifer. His wise budget perspectives have previously served Arnold Schwarzenegger and George W. Bush, both of whom presided over historic economic downturns immediately following DeMaio’s advice. He was even a key influence on Bush’s Management Agenda to make government more “citizen-centered, market-based, and results-oriented.” That plan helped guide the Bush Administration’s actions on governmental and economic policy. Which worked out… not so great. And caused many of the failures that DeMaio and others now point to as supposed proof that you probably aren’t suffering enough if someone else is suffering more.
Besides, his pious waxing about transparency isn’t actually backed up by action unless it suits him. The media and citizens who have made the request are still hoping today will be the day that his office finally releases the cost of producing his fiscal reform plan- weeks after the plan itself was released. City funds to produce and disseminate a report from which he’ll run for mayor. Not illegal, but not a story he wants. Big talk about transparency, but it takes weeks to drag basic fiscal information from his office.
The thing is, as an artform, DeMaio is much better at politics than anyone he’s yet come up against- or worked with. He can sit at the council and orchestrate obstruction until doomsday, and time his proposal on a particular issue however and whenever it suits him. Because nobody else is in a position to effectively press the issue (whatever given issue might come up). He’s not even all that good at it, he just hasn’t been meaningfully challenged so far.
So DeMaio is persuasive. Heck, even if he wasn’t, you might agree with his pro-corporate, pseudo-libertarian, low-wages, anti-worker philosophy. But let’s be clear about his goals: Reduce the general standard of living as much as possible, make as many people as possible poor and malleable, structure a system that maximizes profit for a narrow group of elites, reap the benefits of serving those elites (hopefully by becoming one).
There’s no question that tough economic times force tough decisions, and someone is going to have to hurt in the process. If that were all that was going on here, it would be unpleasant but it would be necessary and fine in its way. But this isn’t just about how to balance a troubled budget. It’s a fight over what government is and isn’t, what services should and should not exist, and whether San Diego is willing to remain focused on its long-term systemic well-being in the midst of temporary crisis. DeMaio is hoping no.
How to get there? Drive an economic collapse from the private sector, demand that it’s the government’s fault and the private sector is the solution, use the immediacy of crisis to steamroll opposition. It’s Karl Rove’s attack-from-your-weakness 101, and it’s well-executed. It just also happens to be a house of cards, and the play for DeMaio and those like him is to be sufficiently insulated by the time it all comes crashing down. Agree or don’t, but let’s all at least be clear about what we’re talking about.