"Come on, team, let's get mean!"
This is not the chant of rabid football fans, egging on their favorite team to crush the opponents. Rather, it's the raucous war cry of far-out right-wing ideologues all across the country who're pumping up Team GOP to pound the bejeezus out of America's millions of unemployed workers. Far from a game, this is real, and it's a moral abomination.
I've been unemployed before, and I can tell you it's a misery — all the more so today, when there are far more people out of work than there are job openings. This leaves millions of our fellow Americans mired in the debilitating misery of long-term unemployment.
But that's not miserable enough for a feral breed of Ayn Randian political zealots who are lobbying Republican governors, legislators and congress-critters to punish the jobless for ... well, for their joblessness. In this perverse universe, the conventional wisdom asserts that unemployment benefits and other poverty-prevention programs are sapping our nation's vitality by allowing "moochers" to live the Life of Reilly and avoid work.
The GOP's budget demigod in the U.S. House, Rep. Paul Ryan, expressed this dogma in a fanciful homily deriding America's safety net as "a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency." This from a guy whose family's wealth was gained from government contacts and who has spent practically all of his adult life in the sweet-swaying hammock of congressional privilege, presently drawing $174,000 a year from Old Uncle Sugar.
As ridiculous and just plain mean as this attitude is, it plays well in the insanity that now defines "the debate" in Republican primary elections. So, state-after-state (as well as Congress) are succumbing to this pound-the-poor, right-wing screed by frenetically slashing unemployment benefits.
Behind this faux-philosophical push are the smiling barons of corporate America. Without jobless payments, you see, desperate millions will be forced to whatever low-wage, no-benefit, dead-end jobs the barons design.
What's at work here is a profoundly awful ethical phenomenon that has seeped into the top strata of American society: Our nation's corporate and political elites have developed an immunity to shame.
It has become morally acceptable in those lofty circles to enrich themselves while turning their backs on the rest of us. Even more damning, they feel free to slash America's already tattered safety net, leaving more holes than net for the workaday majority of Americans who've been knocked down by an ongoing economic disaster created by these very elites.
For a look at how shameful these privileged powers have become, turn to North Carolina. Until recently, this Southern state maintained a fairly moderate government with a populist streak, taking pride in its educational system and other public efforts to maintain a middle class. No more. A shame-resistant political leadership has recently taken hold, consisting of corporate-funded tea party extremists who loathe the very idea of a safety net.
The new bunch has been gutting everything from public schools to health care, and now they've turned on hard-hit citizens who're out of work. In a state with the fifth-highest jobless rate in the country, and with no recovery in sight, the right-wing governor and legislature recently whacked weekly unemployment benefits by a third, leaving struggling North Carolinians with a meager $350 a week to try to make ends meet, while simultaneously eliminating millions of consumer dollars that those families would otherwise be putting into the state's economy. Then, just to give the jobless another kick, the petty politicians cut the number of weeks people can receive unemployment aid.
This official minginess automatically disqualified the state from getting $700 million a year for long-term jobless payments from the federal government. Yet Gov. Pat McCrory issued a cockamamie, Kafkaesque claim that the gut-job ensures that "our citizens' unemployment safety net is secure," while providing "an economic climate that allows job creators to start hiring again."
Yeah, we'll all hold our breath until those "job creators" get going. Meanwhile, the GOP wrecking crew doled out a fat tax break for the corporate elites — for doing nothing. Take from the poor, give to the rich: backward Robin Hood. If ignorance is bliss, McCrory must be ecstatic.
Meanwhile, his shameless immorality has unleashed a growing storm of weekly demonstrations known as "Moral Mondays." For information about this remarkable citizens' uprising, link to the North Carolina Justice Center: www.ncjustice.org.
To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.