The first time I lobbied the legislature for anything, I went, with a citizens’ group, to Salem to advocate for a bill which would pay a living wage to caregivers of people with disabilities. We met in a lunch room beneath the capital building, where we were addressed by a white bearded long haired 50 something guide/coach named Fritz.
Fritz perched himself comfortably upon the edge of a cafeteria table, crossed his ankles, and motioned for us to gather ‘round. “Republicans are not the bad guys,” he began. “Liberals and conservatives alike, work hard in this building, every day, to make Oregon a better place. We have honest differences of opinion about how to go about achieving that goal, but those differences don’t make one party good and the other party evil. They’re simply obstacles to be overcome as we work together as allies to improve the quality of life in our state.”
This view of party politics stuck with me for a long time. However, given the recent government shutdown, cuts in SNAP benefits (food stamps), and now the unwillingness to extend unemployment benefits, it’s become harder for me to maintain the idea that politics doesn’t boil down to a question of good versus evil.
While it’s mathematically impossible for every job seeker to find a job, under current economic conditions, the GOP has voted to suspend extensions of unemployment benefits, and its members are rallying against the reinstatement of such benefits.
Bizarrely, even though 16 million children in the United States – 22% of American children – live below the federal poverty level***, largely because there aren't enough jobs to employ every job seeking American, Republicans are trying to justify the repeal of benefits, by claiming such a repeal incentivizes job seeking.
"When I said it's a disservice, I meant it - I am worried about the workers. Not that I think they become bad people by becoming unemployed longer, but that the longer they're unemployed, the less likely they are to ever get a job again," ~ Rand Paul.****
In other words, if the government suspends benefits, during one of the worst cold snaps in U.S. history, the, want to be working, poor will have an extra incentive to apply for jobs, which aren’t there, before their families freeze & starve.
WHAT!? Does Representative Paul honestly believe that sending impoverished job seekers into a state of panic over how to feed their children, pay rent, and heat their homes, make 6 million jobs suddenly appear? Of course not, he’s not stupid. It’s more likely Paul, and his colleagues, figure that since poor people don’t vote Republican, cutting programs to the poorest among us is a good way to save money without affecting their constituency.
Not only is this perspective a remarkably cruel point of view to base policy upon, it’s also incredibly short sighted. Removing millions of consumers from the market place hurts business.
If the Joneses aren’t buying groceries, not only does the grocery store have to lay off a box boy and a clerk, but the food manufacturers have to eventually lay off factory workers, which shrinks the consumer base even further.
As much as I admire Fritz’s “one big family” point of view, I can’t help but label a policy of sticking it to the poor as just plain evil.