Obviously, no human being on Earth enjoys being insulted regardless of who they are as a person, or what their station in life is. Americans are no different. In fact, the popular notion that “Americans are exceptional” would lead one to believe that if a politician blatantly insulted the majority of Americans it would be a death knell for his, or her, political career. It is still an epic mystery that defies explanation, but for the past few years there has been a concerted effort by Republicans to demean a large majority of Americans and yet they are still able to garner significant electoral support; often from the very people they disparage and denigrate. What is even a bigger mystery is why Republicans are unafraid to insult wide swathes of the population on major media outlets, in campaign speeches, and for one Republican governor, during a political debate less than a month before a gubernatorial election.
During a debate with his Democratic gubernatorial opponent last week, Koch loyalist Scott Walker took the time to insult Wisconsin workers he claimed are responsible for being stuck earning poverty wages. Democrat Mary Burke noted that according to Walker’s own Wisconsin Economic Development Authority, his economic policies had only created 5,800 jobs in the past three years, and that during the same time-frame, 13,000 Wisconsin jobs were lost. According to federal data, Wisconsin ranks 37th for new job creation and dead last among its regional neighbors. Walker has done, on a less-extreme level, precisely the same as his conservative cohort Sam Brownback in Kansas in giving corporations tax cuts that have not produced jobs. Walker’s response to Burke defending his poor job creation record was that “We don’t have a jobs problem in this state; we have a work problem.” It was a typical Republican move to blame his constituents for his poor job creation record and insult their work ethic for why they earn poverty wages.
Burke promptly noted that Walker cut funding for community and technical college financial aid to 1989 levels forcing low-wage workers on to lengthy waiting lists to get training for what few better-paying jobs may yet exist in Wisconsin. After stating that most poverty-wage workers will not be able to find higher-wage jobs she said “We have got to raise the minimum wage immediately.” First, Walker’s claim that the real problem is either people are lazy and do not want to work, or they lack the ambition to find a job that pays better than slave wages is an affront to Wisconsin’s labor force. When Walker was asked directly if he believed a worker can live on minimum wage, and if state has an obligation to provide one, he dutifully responded with trickle-down bovine excrement; “The state should be focused on helping people create jobs.” In conservative parlance it means more tax cuts for the rich and corporations that has failed as miserably to create jobs in Wisconsin as it has anywhere in America for over three decades, and falling back on tax cuts for the storied “job creators” does not address the issue of pathetically low wages for America’s highly productive workforce. It is easier for Republicans to denigrate workers as either too lazy to find work or unworthy of earning a living wage than admit they are why America has the highest percentage of low-wage workers in the economically developed world.
The fact is that over the past 20 years, the US economy has grown by over 60%, and it is due in no insignificant part to a huge increase in productivity of America’s labor force who are working harder and longer, and boosted corporate profits by 20% as of 2011. Meanwhile, wages have stagnated to the point that if Americans’ median income had kept pace with the economic growth due to their higher productivity that went to corporate profits, the annual median income would now be well over $92,000 and not $45,000. Minimum wage workers are extremely fortunate to earn below or near the federal poverty line if they have at least full-time employment with an additional part time job. Three years ago a year’s earnings at minimum wage was approximately $15,080, well below the federal poverty line. At the time (2011) the minimum income required for a single worker to have even nominal economic security was $30,000 annually; or the equivalent of two full-time minimum-wage jobs. Still, Republicans claim the real problem is that Americans are lazy and need to learn the value and culture of hard work, and it is telling about their contempt for workers that they are not remiss to say it often and in public without fear of facing the electorate’s wrath.
This increasing noise from Republicans that Americans as a people are inherently lazy, and moochers, who should feel blessed if they can find minimum wage jobs is a message Democrats should be taking to voters without pause. Particularly when the rich and corporations are posting record profits without end in part due to Republicans’ success at blocking a minimum wage hike as well as obstructing investment in infrastructure to create new living-wage jobs. There are hardly any Republican leaders who have not leveled the charge that the real problem with poor job creation, and the economy, is that Americans are lazy.
Speaker of the House John Boehner recently presented the Republican 5-point economic plan to the American Enterprise Institute that included, among other absurd notions, that “getting a hold of Americans and building in them a culture of hard work and responsibility” in conjunction with eliminating corporate taxes will not only create steady economic growth for the next two or three generations, it will grow wages, provide a steady and increasing stream of high-paying jobs, and provide more security for all Americans right through retirement; The GOP message is that if only Americans would learn, as Paul Ryan says, “the very valuable and important culture of responsibility and hard work,” then wages will magically rise, there will be full employment, and America’s economy will thrive for, as Boehner suggests “the next two or three generations;” or well into the next century.
There must be a well-orchestrated Republican campaign and an ulterior motive behind the crusade to denigrate and insult highly-productive American workers. There is no other explanation for why Scott Walker would say during a televised debate that despite his administration’s pathetic job creation record, “We don’t have a jobs problem in this state,” and that poverty-level wages is because “we have a work problem.” Whatever the reasoning driving this persistent Republican claim that Americans are inherently lazy moochers who need to learn the culture of responsibility and hard work, it is a monumental affront to hardworking Americans. One that Democrats would do well to hammer Republicans mercilessly with if not to win in November, at least to incite the people to take to the streets en masse and demand higher wages.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.