Accepting his party's nomination for reelection on September 6th at the Democratic National Convention, one of the many straw men President Obama railed against was, "I don't believe that firing teachers or kicking students off financial aid will grow the economy."
The Obama campaign trotted out a similar attack over the summer against Mitt Romney, repeatedly alleging he wants fewer "cops, firefighters, and teachers". But this line of attack is nothing new - Democrats have been cynically threatening to cut those jobs first for years, every time anyone suggests reining in profligate government spending.
In 2009, as President Obama was attempting to defend his $800 billion+ "economic stimulus" bill in the face of continuing weak economic growth and high unemployment, the president argued that, "without the help the Recovery Act has provided to struggling states, its estimated that state deficits would be nearly twice as large as they are now, resulting in tens of thousands of additional layoffs - layoffs that would affect police officers, teachers, and firefighters."
In 2010, Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer said, "I think the Republican leadership in the House misconstrues what the American public believes is appropriate to do in this instance. They don't want to see teachers laid off. They don't want to see class size explode. They don't want to see police and fire [fighters] laid off."
In October 2011, the Democrats offered a $35 billion so-called "jobs bill" specifically targeted at funding local police, firefighters, and teachers, which was defeated in the Senate.
Leaving aside for now the fact that police, firefighters, and teachers are not federal employees, why is it always those same three occupations being threatened with cuts, the very first to be put on the chopping block by the Democrats, whenever government budgets need cutting?
Normally an organization that needs to cut its budget will begin by prioritizing its spending, then focusing cuts on lower priorities. When families need to trim their own budgets, they cut discretionary spending first, not food or rent. So simple logic suggests that Democrats consider those three classifications to be the lowest budget priorities. Or, just maybe, the politicians are being a tad cynical. Maybe they're not laying out the grim budgetary facts so much as issuing threats. It's kind of like the old mafia protection racket: "Nice school you've got there, it'd be a shame if anything were to happen to it..."
The reality is, President Obama and his fellow Democrats don't want to cut the budget at all. In fact they'd like to continue with year-after-year increases. (Any budget "cuts" they do offer tend to be phony and under extreme duress.) So they need to scare people away from spending cuts. And saying "our opponents are going to cut 20 percent of the faceless bureaucrats in some agency you've never heard of" just isn't going to fire the imagination of the average citizen/voter the same way threats against "police, firefighters, and teachers" will. People rightly admire and respect these professions, so threats against them resonate. But cynically threatening these professionals for political gain is neither admirable nor respectful. Unfortunately, such threats have been a staple of Democrats' political rhetoric for many years.
State Democrats get in on the act too. In California, Governor Jerry Brown is threatening to cut teachers if his tax-raising ballot initiative isn't passed by voters - but there's very little talk of cutting the bloated education bureaucracy.
Over the long term, education spending (and government spending generally) is up dramatically. And as noted by Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute, "...since 2006, full-time [university] administrators have outnumbered faculty nationally." But again, we rarely if ever hear any calls from the supposed champions of public education to cut any of that bureaucratic overhead, it's always threats to cut teachers.
The right way to do budget cuts, if the goal is to maximize efficiency while minimizing the negative impacts on the public, is to find waste in the budget and cut there first, and to eliminate entirely programs that are redundant or more properly handled by the private sector.
But for politicians like President Obama and his legislative comrades, it's better politics to maximize the negative impacts on the public, or at least to threaten them. So they talk as if every dollar spent by the government is vital to the survival of the republic, and the smallest cuts will bring pain and misery on every American, beginning of course, with every police officer, firefighter, and teacher. When Democrats complain of threats to public safety and education, remember that it is they who are doing the threatening.