They’re at it again. More revelations about the conservative personality. This time through the Republican Congress blocking the extension of unemployment benefits, we see the intrinsic lack of empathy amongst conservatives–that is until something trying affects them. On a recent episode of Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect, He brought up instances on how conservatives, Repubs specifically, were intolerant and utterly lacking in empathy–that is until they personally were affected by whatever it was they were in a tizzy about.
A fine example is the Cheneys, Daddy Dicky and Lil’ Lezzie Mary. Up until recently, Dick Cheney rolled along with his party’s homophobic stance on all that is gay. He wasn’t necessarily known for being a vocal nutbag, a la Michigan’s RNC committeeman, Dave Agema, a real beauty. But neither did he make any stand against some of the really toxic shit that went down before his “awakening”. And then his darling daughter came out with a vengeance. And got married. And all of a sudden, Papa Cheney threw off the dreary shackles of Repub-style homophobia and joined the ranks of the super-fabulous. Well, maybe not quite that exaggerated; he didn’t exactly go out and march with PFLAG in the Wyoming PRIDE parade. (Is there a Wyoming PRIDE parade?) But he did go on the record to offer his support for gay marriage legislation in Maryland, and was frequently interviewed about his support for his lesbian daughter.
So you see, when it’s convenient; when it directly affects you, the Repub will all of a sudden gain empathy. Nancy Reagan’s about-face on stem-cell research is another fine example. When her dearest Ronnie became a possible beneficiary of stem-cell research for his Alzheimers, the ex-First Lady quickly forgot all of the dear little “snowflakes”, the mind-bogglingly sentimental term her Repub anti-abortion cohorts used for the frozen embryos used in stem-cell generation.
And so we come to this week’s unemployment benefits brouhaha. This particular iteration of convenient empathy is at least partially due to the fact that the Repubs have managed, over the past 25 years, to attract so many blue-collar workers with their god, guns and gays inanity, despite the glaringly obvious fact that those new Repubs would be voting against their own economic interests. Thomas Franks summed it all up quite tidily with What’s the Matter With Kansas?
25 years ago in 1990, when America was gearing up for the Clintonian boom years, blue-collars could still count on a relatively stable lifestyle and unemployment was at 5.6%, soon to dive even lower into the 4%s with the advent of the Clinton economic strategy–you know, that bloated federal-heavy monstrosity of prosperity so despised by today’s Teapublicans. And thus, the fat and happy blue-collars could turn their attentions to the suddenly imminent threat of godless homosexuals mustering their massive army to teach their kids to condomize bananas and take away their precious guns.
It could have been so good–if only the Bush administration’s economic freefall had not happened. But it did, and just like that, millions of blue-collars found themselves out of jobs that would never come back. Sure, they could toil for $7.00 an hour at Walmart, provided they sign away their rights to unionize, but that wasn’t gong to pay the mortgage, especially on those supersized McMansions that too many working class folk decided they just had to have, since it was so darned easy to get a zero-down “liar’s loan”. The job market for the working class was and is now a truly dismal affair; the Repub’s gleeful union-busting, alongside greedy corporate overseas outsourcing has cut the possibility of finding a stable, decent-paying blue-collar job down to next-to-nil.
When they were employed, they fancied themselves as able to breathe the same air as the multi-millionaire 1%er legislators that represent them, and subscribed to the cutthroat Ayn Randian viewpoint that those on top got there by sheer hard work. They drank the Adam Smith/Milton Friedman kool-aid and actually believed in the ethereal possibility that they too could be fabulously wealthy, by practicing rugged American-style individualism and prizing materialism as a godly virtue. The consumer economic phenomenon of “upsizing” of materialist tastes found the front yards of those McMansions that were teetering upon the foundation of a zero-down loan filled with boats, RVs, JetSkis and Harleys, and inside the house, room after room full of brand spankin’ new “luxury-styled” furnishings, and kitchens lined with marble and SubZeros. All of a sudden, it had become very important for the working class striver to look , act and live the part of an economic winner.
Meanwhile, the real economic winners–the 1%er elites, continued to widen the gap between themselves and their admirers, practicing the same legacy habits that had served their class for generations. Tax-dodging, insider access to corporate-friendly tax and trade legislation, good ol’ inheritance, cronyism that starts at their exclusive prep school and continues on through frats and elite college social clubs, finally culminating with corporate board swapping and political appointments is how the real Little Lord Fauntleroys on top of the economic pile do it.
Certainly nothing close to the experience of the blue collar contractor or auto repair shop owner looking to expand in order to join the magic economical machine that lifts the wings of those already in the air.
But as long as Mitt Romney’s “49%” believe that they might be able to join the elite ranks, the colder-hearted among them that drink the Repub kool-aid will see nothing wrong in stepping on the backs of others and bending, even breaking rules in order to get there. And they are easily convinced that those who don’t go that route and remain either close to poverty, or deep in it, are lazy, stupid, and deserving of their fate.
The Repub PR machine has been brilliant in its ability to put forth hatred, envy, greed and distrust of one’s fellow man as the noble values of winners. And if these are the values of winners, then the overly simplistic and dualistic “moral” Repub mind sees the rest of us not willing to play that cutthroat game, or be so enthralled with naked materialism, as losers. Especially notable amongst the anti-government Tea Party types is the nosy parker tendency to make other people’s money issues their business, and to feel righteous indignation at anyone who is receiving the tiniest fraction of a penny more in assistance than they are. To the single mother on welfare, the middle-class Teapublican bitterly resents every dollar she receives from the government. They savagely criticize her lifestyle, confidently asserting that they would never end up in that predicament, then hugely exaggerate both the fiscal amount and the relative effect of her welfare “entitlement” upon what they see as a bloated government.
The Repubs have done an excellent spin job on making the needy poor the enemy, and working their lower class members up into a jealous and nosy frenzy, angrily chasing their tails trying to find out how much everyone else is unfairly benefitting from government programs. And not just the “enemy”, but morally degraded and lazy; deserving of not just scorn, but actual hatred. You see and hear it at their rallies, with their sub-literate homemade signs and talk-radio style angry ranting.
So, this week, the Repubs are denying extended unemployment benefits to those who are already in the tightest of economic situations. They disingenuously ignore the economist-proven fact that unemployment benefits serve as a crucial economic stimulus; those who have been unemployed for over a year are not able to contribute anything to the economy–as an employee and as a consumer. The next step for these folk is to get on the dreaded welfare roles, and the Repubs know this very well. But cutting off unemployment bennies makes it look like they’re being tough on “the gummint” and sufficiently anti-Obama to satisfy the miserly and resentful tendencies of their far-right party base. And we all know how positively evil those welfare sponges are.
And so it goes: that lack of empathy–except when it’s convenient for their immediate situation. Blue-collar/working class Repubs are in an awkward place. Far too many of them are living in their parents’ basements or in the RV in their driveway, eyeing the mailbox for their unemployment checks that now will not be forthcoming. What are they going to do? Realistically, they need to hie it down to the local social services office–the same place where they signed up for their unemployment bennies–and get their well-deserved SNAP and TANF benefits. That is, the SNAP benefits that are left, since the Repubs were so kind as to cut SNAP benefits last year–even though SNAP is perhaps the most economically stimulating and successful of all of the government programs. And they may just have to pee in a cup, as some state Repubs are pushing for drug testing of all welfare recipients. More ingenious demonizing of poor people who surely are rampant with decadent and evil druggy junkies. Except that they’re not–at least not more than their coke-sniffing, Oxy-popping upper-class fellow citizens