When the right votes against extending unemployment benefits, it tears away the curtain on how they really feel abut the poorest and most needy in our society
The Republicans opposition to extending unemployment insurance to about 1.3 million American families has been well vetted and well discussed. But beyond the moral and economic issues in this specific legislation, there remains the deeper issue of distribution of wealth in our country, and the support by each major party of their preferred constituency -- for Republicans obviously the wealthy. It also a metaphor for right wing disdain, dislike, and distrust of the poor in our society.
Further, it draws in a range of collateral issues, and a healthy dose of hypocrisy. Let's start with the "concessions" the GOP offered to extend the benefits to currently unemployed individuals and families. They would agree, if some way is found to pay for it (an amount estimated to be about $6 Billion). While no previous extension has ever had this proviso, the Republicans have offered plans that include cutting various other benefits for the poor. But none of the plans offer the more obvious suggestion of raising taxes on the most wealthy to help pay for those in greater need. Again, their agenda is to inflict damage on the less fortunate while protecting their highest income constituency.
They have also focused on what they call a better solution-- that of creating more jobs. That, they say, should be the greater goal. What is lost in this argument is their other contention that if the wealthy are given (continued) tax breaks, they will create more jobs. Well, that has proven to be a false hope -- taxes have never been lower on the highest income groups, for decades....where are the jobs? They are correct in one way, creating jobs would ameliorate the situation. They are not there, and one must remember, as conservatives remind us, that government does not create needed jobs -- the private sector does. Thus, it is less the government or the administration that is failing us, it is the private sector which has concluded that with greater productivity (primarily because of their workforce) they can get along without greater employment. This despite the fact that many American corporations have enormous cash stashes along with sending many of their new jobs overseas.
Then there is the Ron Paul suggestion, that by extending the benefits we are somehow "enabling" the recipients to not actively seek work. That is a conclusion pulled out of thin air -- and has no empirical proof or basis (actually evidence generally shows that most people want to work and can earn more by doing so). Indeed, lack of a job is demeaning and emasculating. However, using Paul's thesis, again there is a large dose of hypocrisy here, because at the same time the far right is trying to push the unemployed into the workforce, they are resisting raising the minimum wage. If the Paul thesis is correct, then a sound solution is to pay a more attractive living wage to folks currently unemployed.
And speaking of resisting joining the work force, among the most indolent of citizens in our country has to be the super wealthy. I doubt they do much heavy lifting. Plus, the antics of the offspring of that group are legendary (and not even necessary to name names). That too is a large point of hypocrisy. Why? Because again the Republicans have been loath to raise the estate tax. It is full of bells and whistles to protect the obscenely wealthy from losing any significant share of their wealth, which is handed down from generation to generation -- though the recipients of this largess have shown no interest or ability to create those jobs so often talked about.
This goes even deeper and longer than just the recent issue of extended unemployment benefits. In the 2012 presidential campaign, In a well documented and highly controversial statement, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich called Child Labor Laws (which affect mostly poor children) "truly stupid" while appearing at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government in November 2011. He then went on to make a proposal that children in poor schools and neighborhoods (like Public Housing projects) would benefit if they were given janitorial tasks in their schools – like cleaning toilets and mopping floors (Charles Dickens would have loved his selection of jobs) If it is good for poor kids, it should also then be good for children of wealth too. Maybe (as I will suggest) even better. Since affluent schools do not need to economize on janitorial services, perhaps the rich kids could go to the projects and do some cleaning there to educate affluent kids.
Indeed, Gingrich talks of “role models” – well there is a huge need for upper income kids to learn about how the poor really live. Do they ever really get exposed to skimping from paycheck to paycheck…keeping a beat up old car running…using food stamps…or feeling the fear that often runs through projects as decent folks try to scrape out a living and raise a family.
At any rate, the bottom line is this. We have to stop tweaking and making incremental moves to ameliorate the inequality in income and wealth in America; the extension of unemployment benefits is a powerful metaphor for this debate. And, the time has come when we have to get serious -- deadly serious -- about how we view and treat the poorest and most needy among us in our country.