It’s long been a story many Republicans like to tell themselves: America would be doing much better as a country if it weren’t for the lazy bums and moochers who are holding us back.
You don't have to scratch far below the surface of a lot of politicians to find it, particularly conservatives. You could hear it in former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s infamous “47% video”, where he complained he would have a hard time winning an election because his Democratic opponent bough off voters with free government handouts.
You can hear it in the voices of those Republicans, such as Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who justified his vote to cut off assistance to millions of Americans adults and children who relied on federal food stamp assistance by saying, “you can no longer sit on your couch…and expect the federal taxpayer to feed you.”
And now you can hear it in the voice of Illinois Republican Bill Brady, who said at a gubernatorial debate Tuesday that unemployed workers in the state are refusing to return to work simply because they’re “enjoying” their unemployment insurance.
The candidates were asked by Greg Baise, who heads the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, about their positions on increasing Illinois’ unemployment benefits.
Rauner noted, “Most [manufacturers] have said, ‘It’s not the biggest problem we face, and workers comp is much bigger, taxes are much bigger, and some of the regulatory burden overall is a bigger problem.’”
But Brady said he’s heard something different than Rauner from manufacturers.
“I have to differ with Mr. Rauner on this,” Brady said. “The number one issue I run into when I travel around to manufacturing plants particularly, when I ask them, ‘How’s it going?’ They say, ‘I can’t hire my people back.’ They say, ‘They’re enjoying – I’ll use – their unemployment insurance. And I can’t get them back to work.’ So we’ve gotta motivate people to get back into the workforce.”
Granted, Brady was talking to a room full of manufacturing professionals, so maybe he was simply making something up to pander to his audience.
But if he wasn’t inventing what he heard out of whole cloth, then Bill Brady needs to get out among regular Illinoisans more often.
In a state that once led the Midwest in manufacturing output, there are thousands and thousands of its workers who would love nothing more than a steady job, a steady paycheck and the dignity of going back to work.
In the past year, Illinois lost 9,000 manufacturing jobs. Since the last big recession in 2008, the state has 100,000 fewer manufacturing jobs than before. Many of those jobs were high-paying, high skilled positions, occupied by workers who made a career out of their chosen field.
More important, many of those workers who lost their jobs built a home and family and their communities on the value of those manufacturing jobs that are now gone. No amount of temporary unemployment insurance is going to replace that.
Even worse, to assume those workers, whose lives are upended when jobs are lost, are kicking back and enjoying a newfound vacation when bills are do and children have to be fed and mortgages paid, is simply wrong. And, for the thousands upon thousands of Illinoisans looking for work, insulting.
To pretend that America is full of lazy bums who simply want others to do for them can be a comforting narrative for a political party that likes to see itself as the champion of rugged individualists who all pulled themselves up by the bootstraps to success.
It also helps politicians who support policies focused on shredding the vital economic safety net Americans have relied on for decades, such as Congressman and former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who once said 60 percent of Americans are “takers, not makers”.
Unfortunately, it looks like candidate Brady has joined that camp. Or, worse, he was there all along.
Either way, a man that out of touch with the everyday problems of Illinois workers needs a reality check if he expects to win their votes.