There was a very interesting article in the New York Times yesterday that focussed on a particularly hard-hit county in Minnesota to discuss the socio-economic paradox in which the people who rely the most on the government for assistance during economically difficult times are also the most vocally opposed to that very same government assistance. Aye-aye-aye! (It also discusses the slow transition over the course of the past three decades of the federally funded safety net from helping the very poor to helping the middle class. It’s a really good article. You should read this article.) You can almost understand what these people are upset about. There is a lot of pride wrapped up in accepting “charity” of any kind, but especially Barack Obama’s charity, so to speak. Most of the people interviewed in the article were receiving some kind of assistance, which they resented, and all of them had some cloudy, poorly thought through ideas about how they and the government could spend their resources more wisely while at the same time admitting that they have no idea how they will manage if they’re forced to either pay more taxes and/or give up some of the benefits they’ve come to depend on. It’s a mess. Everyone in the article seems very concerned with the national deficit, which is funny because the national deficit is measured in sums of money that I’m pretty sure the human mind cannot even comprehend. It’s just such a gigantic and abstract thing that is completely dependent on the interconnected global economy. Our elected officials should be concerned with it, but some dude running a flailing t-shirt printing company that used to be a jewelry store probably doesn’t need to lose any sleep over it. That’s not how we fix it. (Speaking of not how we fix it, we don’t fix it by cutting out subsidized lunches for needy schoolchildren. We fix it by not constantly fighting three wars at the same time, some of which may or may not be legal or morally defensible.) But, so, read the article! It’s one of the more interesting portraits of contemporary America, as well as a smart and confounding analysis of the current state of the American psyche as it relates to our shared economic troubles. One imagines that a lot of the people interviewed would agree whole-heartedly with this new clip of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich complaining about unemployment benefits for people who just “sit around” and “do nothing”:

You know, this kind of an argument would hold a lot more water if we weren’t currently in one of the worst economic crises in three generations with record high unemployment levels. The idea that people who are receiving unemployment benefits are simply riding around in their limos sipping champagne is so fucking ’80s. I’m not sure who it was that created this straw man concept of the poor person as economic vampire who was happily lying around in abject leisure while the rest of us humps had to slave over hot coals in order to pay for their free sneakers or whatever, but uh, that is such bullshit, and thank God there is finally this blog post to rid the world of that misconception. (Speaking of poor people, did you read THIS article about subsidized housing for homeless families? The point is: read the newspaper, guys.) Are there abuses in the system? I’m sure there are. But there are abuses in any system attempting to fulfill the needs of 300 MILLION PEOPLE. And telling everyone who is trying to find work in order to pay to feed their children that they should just go out and get an associate’s degree is some RILL condescending shit. (If Newt Gingrich had been on that plane, there would have been a lot more associates degrees in that first class cabin.) If you want to start getting into imagining all of the ways in which the world would be a better place if every single person simply lived an idealized life of perseverance and unlimited success, as if every baby who was almost aborted will turn into a millionaire like Nick Cannon, or as if every associate’s degree is even worth the incredible investment of time and money in an economic climate where there simply isn’t work for lots of people regardless of how many associates degrees they have the end, we can follow that dream thread until we end up in Saito’s Purgatory, but it still won’t change the fact that we should help people who need help and not be fucking assholes about it.

I’m not saying that my mind is completely made up, but I doubt that I will be voting for Newt Gingrich at this point. (Via ChristianNightmares.)

Comments (40)
  1. I don’t want to speak out of turn here, but I think Newt Gingrich might be a dick.

  2. How can you give a speech deriding the unemployed for not spending money they don’t have on an education that won’t get them a job when you’re a leading member of the party that has spent decades attempting to cripple public higher education?

  3. Reminds me of a good book. http://www.amazon.com/Whats-Matter-Kansas-Conservatives-America/dp/0805073396
    Have long wondered why people vote outside of their self interests, and it usually is summed up with trumped up racism and fear-mongering .
    Congrats, Newt.

    • Well, Frank also mentions that the Democrats have basically abandoned the (white) working class in the last 50 years, which is true. So when both of the major political parties support NAFTA and “free” trade, and your industries are hollowed out, and jobs disappear, what else do you have to feel in control of but cultural issues? So, the Republicans offered a better platform of cultural control and hatred, and the white working class in the middle of the country flocked to them.

      I think, and I’m obviously not the first to say this, but our political system is geared toward electing one of two parties (ie it’s not proportional) and neither of our parties is linked (or ever was linked to) a socialist labor movement. Thus, except for a brief period, we never had a strong socialist party to help create a class identity in the United States, unlike in Europe. If you travel to the UK, France, Germany, Italy – people know what it means to be politically working class, unlike in the US. In France maintenance of social programs is seen as a socialist, left-wing thing, and government is seen as providing some good, as opposed to the sad world of American politics. Remember in 2009 when we had seniors on Medicare protesting government-run health care? Or, as the article points out, someone in 2012 who takes government assistance loudly denouncing government assistance? It shouldn’t come as a shock that in a political system and culture that creates a cult of individualism people who accept it would be embarrassed about accepting it, and then jump to be the first to declaim it while sneaking off to deposit unemployment/welfare checks. People in the U.S. believe they can be of the upper class if they try hard enough, while in Europe (which has greater inter-class mobility!) there is a hardened class consciousness and it’s ok to be working class. Hence, we have a weird, almost split national political psyche.

  4. “Spare some change. Ha! He’s probably just going to go waste it on monocles, top hats and ivory walking sticks.” — Newt Gingrich, walking by a homeless man.

  5. Blame The Victim should be our country’s new motto.

  6. It’s astonishing that someone can pretend that getting an Associate’s degree will solve unemployment when the unemployment rolls are littered with people who have Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees.

  7. I think he’s totally right, if you don’t have a job, you should at least be out there trying! Even if you’re horribly underqualified, and it’s clear that you would make a mess of the whole thing, you should at least be trying for any open position you can! I also like that he’s leading by example.

    • yes, unemployment should not be a free ride, so to speak, but the point is that you can use 99 weeks (and by the way, since when can you get 2 years of unemployment. In NY, you cap out at 6 mos.) to better yourself, get training, a degree and whatnot. However, if there aren’t any jobs or positions available, what now? yes, the folks who are out of work need to be held accountable for actively trying to find jobs, but the government needs to be held equally accountable to finding ways to create job opportunities.

      • Umm…I was joking about the fact that he’s running for a position he’s clearly not qualified for, and almost certainly won’t get, so maybe finding work isn’t that easy. Hence the fact that this comment is not yet hidden due to low rating.

      • also, can i just interject here and say most job training programs are absolutely worthless? they are mismatched to opportunities and drastically underfunded. across the US right now, only like 250,000 people are enrolled in federally supported job training programs, and the effectiveness rate as far as job retention is laughable. the most successful job training program is job corps, and it averages something like a $13,000 per year income after completion. and if one thinks that community colleges are the answer, hahahahahaha. ha. hahahahaha. welfare reform was such a boondoggle, and it’s why i actually hate bill clinton.

        • You should hate Gingrich and former Wisconsin governor Thommy Thompson first. They strong-armed that program into office. Wisconsin enacted in in 1996-1997, and it’s based on a program that worked in a very rural, VERY WHITE section of the state. Then they expanded it to the rest of the state and made it mandatory for anyone getting any assistance to go through this awful training program and a ton of people I met with (was interning for a group that was trying to aid the transition so it was less awful for those involved) had lost their jobs bc they HAD to take two weeks off to “learn” really silly stuff in order to get a bus pass or feed their family. It was horrifying. Clinton was forced to pass that, which is one of the reasons why Thompson sat on Bush’s cabinet for awhile.

          • oh, agreed. i mean, i know that clinton is not completely at fault for what happened to public housing, healthcare, and welfare reform under his watch, but it’s still an incredibly frustrating reality that so much of our safety net was completely shredded during the mid-90s. which is why it’s so ridiculous for gingrich to even been talking about this shit- he has been beating this dead ass horse about the dependency of welfare for over 20 years, and he’s been completely goddamned wrong about it for 20 years, and it’s just so ungodly terrible. and i know that there is nothing worse than being even remotely involved in public policy anymore, because the reality on the ground is so vastly different from the discussion and rhetoric surrounding it. every book i’ve ever read about welfare reform makes me want to cheese grater my face off, so i’m imagining that having to be there up close while it went into action must’ve been atrocious.

          • It was a fucking nightmare.

  8. i read somewhere that economic crises are often when conservatives in the US start to talk about the deficit as a primary policy issue- it has to do with the fact that the average american is so nervous / upset about their own personal budgets and income / spending that it is easy to capture that fear and direct it towards the government’s spending, and peel off programs and privatize certain functions, which of course usually serves to make things worse overall for the average person while redistributing income upwards. so it’s manipulation of individual feelings of guilt and self loathing and translating that to loathing of the government overall.

    i read that article yesterday, and the part where the man whose disabled daughter, who receives all sorts of care from federal programs, was like “she doesn’t need all this fancy medical and educational help” made me want to die a thousand deaths.

  9. I read that article yesterday. Sad situation. In our local paper another sad article reported that even if you have health insurance, if you get cancer, you have a good chance of going bankrupt. Point being, there are many ways of getting to that situation through no fault of your own, but republicans portray those in need as somehow morally at fault. “If you all had the good sense to be born into wealthy families with no genetic health risks and perfect parents you wouldn’t be in this predicament!”

  10. wait, what? Newt, are you offering to pay for everyone’s education?

  11. This fucking guy UGGHHH.

  12. Ugh, I get so angry at the assholes that have convinced these people to be self-hating failures who deserve their struggles because they didn’t try hard enough to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I know I should be angry at the people who buy it, and I am, but not nearly as much as the perpetrators. And Newt? My dad is a middle-classed conservative white man who has done Everything Right (TM) his entire life persuing the model of the rat race, and he’s been out of work five times in three years because the businesses keep closing. If an educated, priveleged, experienced, and stereotypically perfectly presented model of the American dream needs unemployment on a regular basis, I want you to go ahead and shut the fuck up about anyone without those advantages.

    • My dad is also a middle-classed conservative white man who did Everything Right (TM). He is retired now and he and my mother are very comfortable and there life is very suburbian and super finea and Normal (R). So everything totally worked out for them, except for the fact that my dad had to spend 20 miserable years in the Navy because of the Vietnam draft.

      The problem is, since it worked out so normally for my parents, they totally would agree with Newt. They are super nice people and everything, but 100% buy into this stupid thing about how poor peole just need to get off their lazy asses and work for a living and stop laughing all the way to the bank with their golden welfare checks and drug cigarettes in their pockets. My dad still thinks it’s 1972 and you can just walk into the bank with your best pair of bell-bottoms on and put down a $5 down-payment on a 4-bedroom house that costs like $1000, and you’ll get a free toaster and a football phone or something, just as long as you went to some college (and why wouldn’t you, dumbass?). Meanwhile he’s going to spend the rest of his life on the couch watching Bill O’Reilly on his giant TV, playing Texas hold ‘em on his iPad and eating potato chips collecting a fat pension from the government with free healthcare for life. Because he EARNED IT! Unlike all these lazy hippie liberal commies running around ruining our economy. *sigh*

      • I felt a little cheap even bringing up my personal anecdote because I don’t want that used as some kind of validation for being dicks when the economy’s booming. “Sure, we’ll sympathize with you now, poor people, because it sucks for some of us too!” and blow the fundamental issues off the rest of the time.

        Empathy is a really tricky thing for the human race, apparently, because there are huge swarths of the population like your parents (who I’m sure are lovely people) that just don’t understand concepts they haven’t personally experienced.

        The bigger mind-fuck to me are those like the subjects interviewed for the article; they obviously are familiar with struggling and dependence, but through some psychological boggling conclude that they’re special cases of hard luck and the rest of the world needs to suck it up.

  13. this line of thinking always reminds me of the South Park episode where Rob Reiner says that people who are stressed out shouldn’t smoke because “when [he's] stressed out, [he] just goes to his beach house.” Everyone should just go to their beach houses instead of worrying about the economy!

  14. It would be interesting to compare the size of the annual tax cut that Mitt Romney is proposing for himself vs. the federal assistance to that town. I wonder if it’s bigger or smaller.

  15. Oh fuck this guy who has never had to struggle a day in his life. Sorry to get all Personalgum but my husband, who has an associates degree, has been looking for work for months. He doesn’t consider his unemployment a “free ride”… he has applied to hundreds of jobs (including those out of state), taken on crappy freelancing opportunities, called temp agencies who don’t return his calls because they don’t have any work. Sure, he might be able to get a minimum wage job at Target, but then we wouldn’t be able to pay our mortgage. I’d like to declare independence from assholes like Newt Gingrich who are so far away from real people problems yet think they are qualified to tell us how to live.

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