If you view yourself as one of John Wayne’s characters, a rugged individualist who has made your way in life – all on your own – then you should stop reading this post right now. It’ll probably just piss you off.
America: The Land of Opportunity
One of the most disturbing aspects of the Republican platform is the notion that hard work, big dreaming, and rule-following are all that is required to succeed.
“Every voter will be asked to choose between the chronic high unemployment and the unsustainable debt produced by a big government entitlement society, or a positive, optimistic view of an opportunity society, where any American who works hard, dreams big and follows the rules can achieve anything he or she wants.” 2012 REPUBLICAN PLATFORM: PREAMBLE
This is a myth.
It’s merely a good starting point that sets the limit of the things that are within our control. Let’s start with dreaming big. People have this one pretty much covered. After all, who ever dreams small? The challenge begins when we try to turn those big dreams into reality. We work hard, but before we do, we must also be diligent in our studies to prepare ourselves before entering the work force. And as we all know, all schools are equally effective in preparing our children for the challenges that lay before them. Right?
I know a lot of people who work hard – harder than me. They work long hours at thankless jobs for meager wages. They find that the pursuit of their dreams has to take a back-seat to their pursuit of survival. Following the rules may seem like a given, except when one considers that the rules are severely skewed to benefit the wealthy.
Picking Winners and Losers
Republicans demand smaller government. They say that it’s not the government’s job to pick winners and losers in the marketplace. This may make sense to you if you’re hearing it in a fifth grade civics class, but it does not work in practice. Winners and losers are picked all of the time, and it’s no great feat to predict who will win and who will lose.
Greedy bankers who concoct malicious schemes to defraud their investors receive bailouts, while their customers and everyone else who is affected by the blow to the economy that they caused are left to fend for themselves. Wars are started by the rich, but body counts are usually tallied from among the poor. Individual freedoms are trumpeted as coming from God, except, that is, for the reproductive rights of women. If you’re rich, your tax rate will be less than that of the poor or middle class because the system is rigged in your favor. We need to look no further than the capital gains tax, where investment income is taxed at a lesser rate than salaries, to see that the fix is in. This system does not reward hard work.
I saw a tweet yesterday that read, “None of the employees at Wal-Mart have ever told me that they were working their way through college.” I doubt that the tweeter ever asked any of the employees, but more importantly, the inference is that people who work in these types of jobs lack the drive to do better. This is a common perception among many on the Right, even though it contradicts the whole “work hard and succeed” paradigm.
If hard work were truly valued in our society, the battles over raising the minimum wage would not be as hard-fought by Republicans as they always are. Of course, the fallback position to the argument is “then get a better job”. That simplistic approach to solving the problem can only be uttered by those who have no idea what they are talking about.
The Bootstrap Philosophy
It’s an attractive idea.
We’d all like to think of ourselves as bootstrappers – facing all of life’s obstacles with a self-reliant mindset and an endless supply of drive and determination. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’m no different, as this is how I view myself. How else could we take credit for our accomplishments?
But the bootstrapping philosophy is incomplete. It presumes that outside influences like the economy, systemic imbalances, biases or every kind, and even bad luck can always be overcome with the proper application of elbow grease.
I wonder how bootstrapping enables you to find a job during an economic downturn when the job market dries up? Can you work hard if you can’t find work?
You may possess the requisite drive, follow all of the rules, and dream of a better tomorrow and still find yourself in a bad situation. If I’m describing you, none of this leads me to believe that you are unimaginative, worthless, or a drag on society because I do not follow the teachings of the GOP. You’re still my neighbor, my compatriot, and most of all, a living-breathing human being.
You are not supposed to be discarded.
If I am not describing you, then I wish you continued good fortune because things have a way of changing – and not always for the better. Never look down on your neighbor or believe yourself to be immune, because you are not. Please remember this if you ever feel the urge to dishonestly recast paid-into benefits, like Social Security and unemployment insurance, as government handouts.
You’re not doing anyone, including yourself, any favors if you do.