When the BENGHAZI! Mentality Collides With Economic Policy

While the movement conservative obsession with Benghazi is annoying, it really is part of a larger piece:

invisible light bulb vigilantes, who think that international disarmament means you won’t be able to own a handgun, who think ceiling fan regulations are an assault on OUR FREEDOM!, who think finding out how medical interventions perform will lead to death panels, who think smart electric meters are part of a nefarious monitoring plot (even as they don’t really seem upset about the ongoing domestic surveillance revelations), and who think the detailed Census infringes upon OUR FREEDOM! (THEY MAY TAKE OUR LIVES, BUT THEY’LL NEVER COUNT OUR TOILET BOWLS! WOLVERINES!)

When you consider the conservative belief that ob-gyns who perform abortions are supposedly in it for the money, it ceases to be funny. These bizarre fantasies have also led to horrible labor policies (boldface mine):

Take the case of tipped workers and the minimum wage. In most states, tipped workers earn an hourly wage that is less than the federal minimum — the federal subminimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 per hour — because they’re supposed to make up the rest in tips. (They often don’t; the poverty rate among waiters and waitresses is 250 percent higher than it is among the general work force.) But non-serving staff who don’t get tips must be paid the minimum wage.

Republican state legislators have devised a way around that. In 2011, lawmakers in Wyoming introduced a bill that would have allowed restaurants and other employers to force their serving staff to pool their tips; tips would be redistributed among the nonserving staff, who could then be paid the subminimum wage. That same year, Maine legislators passed a bill declaring that “service charges” were not tips at all. Because they aren’t tips, they don’t belong to the serving staff. Employers can pocket them — without informing customers — whether they redistribute them among the staff or keep them.

In Florida, legislators went so far as to attempt to ban municipalities from enforcing wage theft laws. The only way someone who isn’t a sociopath could possibly think workers should be treated like this is if they’ve made up bogeymen, such as these (boldface mine):

He is saying it’s OK to pay those people less money than needed to live because, in his mind, they are lesser humans – sub-beings with, according to him, no skills.

These are people who get to work every day, who perform duties prescribed by their employers, and whose production provides profits for the companies employing them. The firms hiring grocery stockers and waitresses and car wash attendants need these workers to execute specific tasks so that the corporations can make money and pay their CEOs millions of dollars. Only when these workers are denigrated as subhuman can CEOs and Republicans justify paying them sub-living wages.

Lest you think this is a misinterpretation of their motives, consider this legislation (boldface mine):

The overall thrust of this state legislation is to create workers who are docile and employers who are empowered. That may be why Republican legislators in Idaho, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Ohio, Minnesota, Utah and Missouri have been so eager to ease restrictions on when and how much children can work. High schoolers should learn workplace virtues, says the conservative commentator Ben Stein, like “not talking back.” Early exposure to employment will teach 12-year-olds, as the spokesman of an Idaho school district put it, that “you have to do what you’re asked, what your supervisor is telling you.”

And if workers don’t learn that lesson in junior high, recent Republican changes to state unemployment codes will ensure that they learn it as adults. In 2011, Florida stipulated that any employee fired for “deliberate violation or disregard of the reasonable standards of behavior which the employer expects” would be ineligible for unemployment benefits. Arkansas passed a similar amendment (“violation of any behavioral policies of the employer”). The following year so did South Carolina (“deliberate violations or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect”) and Tennessee. The upshot of these changes is that any employee breaking the rules of her employer — be they posting comments about work on Facebook, dating a co-worker or an employee from a rival firm, going to the bathroom without permission — can be fired and denied unemployment. Faced with that double penalty, any worker might think twice about crossing her boss.

It’s sort of funny when conservatives flip out over energy-saving light bulbs. But when the imaginary world, populated with non-existent evils, they live in affects the fundamentals of our lives, it’s no longer amusing or eye-rolling.

At this point, movement conservatism is little more than a communicable mass psychosis.

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