As a self-confessed masochist, I spent some time reading the rebuttals, and the rebuttals of the rebuttals, and so on and so forth, and Ieventually made my way to the transcript of Paul Ryan's GOP response to the SOTU (as we political savvy folks enjoy typing). It was near the end of his predictable list of reasons why Obama is so horribly and hopelessly wrong that I ran across this little gem:
"This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency."
The first thing that came to mind was how much Republican love come up with these clever little catchphrases. Granted, this might not be the first time it has been used, but it's the first time I've really noticed it. Bumper Sticker Wisdom always prevails over any real intelligent communication, and I have no doubt that "Safety Nets becoming Hammocks" will soon take its place alongside such tired phrases as "Cadillac Benefits," "Tax and Spend" and "Limousine Liberals." I'd list more, but it hurts my brain to cram too many of these into one sitting.
The inanity of this obsession with witty quips in serious political speeches distracted me so much that it took a couple of seconds to realize that I had just been insulted. You see, I didn't actually watch the SOTU, or the official Paul Ryan and (hilarious) unofficial Michele Bachmann responses. I was busy taking notes in a late-night Biology class. Like many other Americans, I've had a tough couple of years. I lost my job - no, my career - of fifteen years when the recession first turned ugly at the end of 2008. I spent two years on unemployment desperately trying to replace my former lively hood in a job market more competitive than a runway model reality show, and am now working two low-paying part-time jobs with no benefits in a desperate attempt to make ends meet, while simultaneously attending school full-time in an attempt to enter a new career path.
Now, why am I whining about my own problems? Not to apologize for being unemployed - I could honestly care less what an anonymous person reading my blog thinks about me. No offense. But the point is that there is a story of struggle and hardship behind every unemployment check I received, and my story is far from unique, and nowhere near as tragic as other ones out there. Millions - MILLIONS - of people across the country are still dealing with the dark realities of this crippling recession as you read this, wondering every day how long they'll be able to last, how long until their luck will run out, hoping they can find some form of employment that will allow them to both feed their children AND make the mortgage payment.
So what does Paul Ryan do? Compare Unemployment Benefits - which you have to PAY INTO in order to RECEIVE, by the way, so Entitlement my ass - to reclining in the shade on a summer afternoon, cold drink in hand. Granted, he didn't actually mention Unemployment benefits, but considering that Unemployment is itself one of the top issues of the moment, I find it hard to believe he's attacking welfare. Besides, he's a Republican, so a hatred of Welfare recipients is almost implied. I don't see any other way to take this; Paul Ryan just implied that I'm a lazy bitch, and that anyone else in my position is just sitting back and letting others do the work for them. There's an appropriate response to this kind of slur, but I'm trying to cut back on my excessive cursing, which is harder than you might think when politics is the point of discussion.
As I mentioned with Welfare, this resentment of "Safety Net" programs is an ongoing theme in the Republican Dialogue. Conservatives actually get red in the face when they think of people cashing Welfare and Unemployment checks, or receiving subsidies or free college tuitions or, Lord have Mercy, free health care! There's this constant obsession with people receiving something they didn't earn, this overwhelming need to raise a ruckus whenever someone else gets something for free that they didn't. They are the hall monitors of the adult world, self-obsessed watchdogs on a constant search for anyone not living up to their high standards. They don't get free money from the government. Why should you? That's not fair! And get off my lawn!
Which brings me to the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (not Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton's self-absorbed abomination). Whenever I hear a Republican rant and rave about these "leeches" that are "draining society" by "living off MY taxes," my mind always flashes back to the Everlasting Gobstopper scene, in which Veruca Salt gets all bent out of shape because she thinks Violet Beauregarde got two Gobstopper, while she only received one.
These Republicans and Conservatives, who always seem so obsessed with anyone getting a "Free Ride" or "Something for Nothing," are the Veruca Salt of the world. Always concerned that someone is getting something they don't have, always making everything about them. The similarities don't end there, of course. In the true spirit of Free Market Capitalism, Veruca's father "earns" her Golden Ticket for by reaping the benefits of the hard work of his underpaid employees, offering a measly ten-pound bonus to the worker who finds the ticket, all of them receiving only slave wages for their diligent work while Veruca runs off to Candy Land with the results of that hard labor. And what better anthem could there be, for the party obsessed with the accumulation of wealth at any cost, than Veruca Salt's little "I Want It Now" song and dance number?
Do I think all Republicans are representative of childhood cinema's favorite Greedy Little Bitch? No, just the ones who act like it. In truth, I believe that there are only a small minority of Conservatives who think like this. Unfortunately, most of them act as spokespersons for the party, and the scream louder than the ones who actually care about their fellow man. And unfortunately, unlike the movie, the Veruca Salts of the world don't get sucked into the furnace by the Educated Eggdicater. In the real world, Veruca's father nails Wonka on a zoming violation and eventually acquires the Wonka factory in a hostile corporate takeover, Golden Geese and all.
And what happens to the majority of Americans, the meek Charlie Buckets who just want to live comfortably, want what's best for everyone, but are unwilling to sell anyone else out in order to obtain that dream? They'll just have to get used to stale bread for dinner, constant disappointment, and looking at chocolate bars through storefront windows. Wishing they had that Everlasting Gobstopper to suck on, and waiting for that safety net to start feeling like a hammock.