Posted on Friday, November 19, 2010
Here's a blunt message for millions of Americans who have lost their jobs and had no success finding a new one: You don't have a problem; you are the problem. This lie has been promoted for years by far-right pundits and you can be sure it will get a huge popularity boost from the wave of Republican victories in the midterm elections.
There is ample evidence of the uber-conservative propaganda blitz in print, broadcasting and on-line media. Certain catch phrases and code words pop up over and over. One of the most insidious examples I've noticed recently is the assertion that Franklin Roosevelt's administration actually prolonged the Great Depression. This notion can be breezily inserted into a conversation by referring to "the failed New Deal policies."
Implicit in this line of attack is the notion that any government effort to help unemployed workers will only encourage laziness and create a cycle of dependency, a cycle which is not only un-productive for the economy but thoroughly un-American.
When you read first-person accounts of the Depression, many of the recollections emphasize the embarrassment and shame workers felt after being pushed into the unemployment ranks with no job prospects anywhere in sight. To critics of the New Deal, these feelings were justified, and that attitude is now re-emerging with new enthusiasm on the far right.
According to the "government is the problem" bloviators, anyone who loses their job is just that -- a loser. We know that because bosses don't fire good people, right? And if it turns out your job disappeared because the factory closed or the company shut down, well, that just proves your firm was a loser and you were a dummy to keep working there. In any case, all blame goes to the victim.
People who hate the New Deal don't like the idea of social safety nets. They see unemployment as an attitude problem with a simple solution. All it takes to succeed is to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and make it happen. Anyone who can't do that is a disgrace to the American tradition of rugged individualism and self-reliance.
Using this argument, it follows that being unemployed for a prolonged period of time can only mean you are not a real American. You're just a dolt who wants a government bailout for your bad career choices. The best thing you can do is shut up and go off into the hills and find a cave to squat in so responsible, hardworking citizens don't have to listen to your childish whining.
The anti-New Deal crowd is all about "me first." You can identify them instantly on radio call-in shows because they describe government aid programs as "giving my hard earned money to deadbeats" and they have no sense of being part of a community. To them, the word "community" is basically the same as "communism."
As the recession grinds on, I'm going to be on the alert for politicians or media commentators who suggest it might be time to re-evaluate the benefits of "government regulations" on things like minimum wages, overtime pay, collective bargaining rights, and other legacies of the New Deal that free-enterprise fanatics have always hated.
Their logic will be the same as it's been since the industrial revolution. If you can find a guy who's willing to work 12 hours a day for $100 a week including Saturdays, what right does the government have to interfere with a private business arrangement?
In his book The Coldest Winter author David Halberstam described the 1930s this way: "The Great Depression had revealed the deepest chasms in American society, and a profound political, economic, and social alienation had taken place."
Those chasms haven't gone away. What troubles me even more is the number of people in this country who are relentlessly trying to make them deeper.
Huffington Post Jeffrey Shaffer