In the 1980s and 1990s, groups of religious extremists posing as “taxpayer’s associations” gained representation on school boards across the United States, and took control of thousands of them, promising cost-cutting and tax cuts. But these supposed taxpayer advocates weren’t so much interested in efficiencies as they were in destroying public education. By making the public schools as dangerous and ineffective as possible, they hoped to drive more students to privately owned religious schools. Of course, in most places, voters didn’t want their schools destroyed, and after they learned of this secret agenda, they voted the “taxpayer’s association” candidates out at their next opportunity.
Something similar is happening in the debate over the debt ceiling. It’s pretty obvious that something fishy is going on with the House members who claim to be interested in cost containment, but rejected the compromise package that had $4 trillion in budget cuts. That’s a level of cost-cutting that previously would have been considered unimaginable. Obviously, they aren’t interested in ways to make the budget work. What they really want is to see the government shut down.
The voters, of course, won’t stand for it — but the next elections are more than a year away. The taxpayer’s associations that took over school boards knew, for the most part, that they would have a hard time getting re-elected. That didn’t deter them — their objective was to do as much damage as they could during their one or two terms in office. I am afraid that this is also the perspective of 30 to 50 of the newer House members. Ideally, they would like to change the system, but realizing their views are too unpopular to make that a realistic possibility, they are looking for ways to blow up the system. It is a sad commentary on the polarization of U.S. politics that despite the extremists’ small numbers, they may yet get that chance.