Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What's Your Point?

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."


I won't pretend to represent every one of the millions of Americans who are unemployed or partially employed or underemployed.

But I am one of those Americans who has been jobless for more than six months — which, at one time, seemed like a l–o–o–o–ng time to be between jobs but, with increasing numbers of Americans reporting being out of work for a year or more, that bar clearly has been adjusted.

Anyway, as I say, I don't claim to represent everyone who is out of work. But I have a question for the Democrats in Congress, and I think most of the unemployed would be interested in the answer:

If we agree with you that the recession began while Bush was president and that the uncontrolled vertical dive began while Bush was president, will you focus all of your efforts on encouraging job creation?

Because I've never disputed the fact that Bush was in charge when the economic avalanche began. And if you've been waiting for us to acknowledge that, it seems like you could have saved a lot of time — and perhaps a lot of lives — by calling for a public condemnation of the Bush administration back around the time that Barack Obama took the oath of office.

Fact is, you probably still could get a majority of Americans to agree that it's Bush's fault — but that majority grows smaller between public opinion surveys. Maybe that is because, after 1½ years in office, Obama owns the economy now. Same as he owns the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And he clearly owns those things that weren't pre–existing conditions when he took office — like the increased federal debt and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Every president reaches a point where everything he inherited from the previous administration becomes his. No president starts with a clean slate (except metaphorically), but his slate inevitably fills rapidly as the previous administration's chickens come home to roost.

It seems to me that FDR's Lend–Lease policy could be applied (with some revision) to the unemployment problem.
  • In the 1940s, England represented the last pillar of western civilization against the oppressive Nazi regime. In the early 21st century, the unemployed are the last pillar of a shaky economy.

    FDR knew that the defense and survival of England was critical to the United States, even though the two nations were separated by an ocean. And today, the economic survival of the United States depends on the millions of unemployed Americans who want to work, but there are no jobs to be found.

    They need jobs to have money to put into the economic engine. Until they get those jobs, they still need to feed themselves and their families, they still need to clothe themselves and their families, and they still need a place, however modest it may be, to protect them from the wind and the rain and the snow.

    Yet Congress adjourned for its summer vacation without extending unemployment benefits.

  • In 1940, FDR walked a fine line as he sought to help England repel the Nazis without committing the United States to war. He proposed Lend–Lease, which would allow the United States to lend the British war material.

    FDR compared the program to putting out a neighbor's house fire. "What do I do in such a crisis?" he asked. "I don't say, 'Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it.' I don't want $15 — I want my garden hose back after the fire is over."

    In other words, get rid of the threat first.

    Unemployment benefits are like that garden hose. They aren't putting out the fire that has raged in the American economy for more than two years now. But they are keeping the fire from getting worse. They put money in people's pockets so they can buy food and clothes and pay rent.

    So why take away that hose now? If we can agree that the recession began while Bush was president, can't we agree that the vast majority of the jobless did not bring this misery upon themselves?

    If we can agree that FDR's house fire analogy can be adapted to today's economy, doesn't it make sense to put the fire out before arguing over whether it was arson or accidental?

    Unemployment benefits keep people going. They don't make everything possible. But they allow the unemployed to pay for the bare necessities while they wait for conditions to improve.

  • Those benefits may be extended when Congress returns later this month, but why put the jobless through unnecessary anxiety?

    The unemployed don't care who is to blame. Well, they do, but first they just want jobs. That's the part that the Democrats don't seem to get, and that can be frustrating for most people because the Republicans didn't seem to get it, either.

    That's why there was such hope for the Obama presidency when he was the president–elect. A majority of Americans believed that, at last, they had elected a president who got it. The fact that they were wrong has been painful for many to accept.

    Doesn't it seem a little childish to be doing things this way?
Extending unemployment benefits is the best way I know of to honor Plato's admonition to be kind.

For all of the unemployed are fighting a hard battle, harder than the employed may ever know.

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