James Chukalas learned that some Americans hate the jobless after he stood next to President Barack Obama during a 2010 Rose Garden press conference. The president had urged Congress to quit blocking unemployment insurance so people like Chukalas, who had lost his car dealership job in 2008, could feed their families.
"I've been called everything from a freeloader to things I can't repeat right now because I stood with the president," Chukalas, of Fredon Township, N.J., said in an interview on Tuesday. "It really offended me. I had people who don't know me from a hole in the wall and they're talking smack about me. Don't judge me before you’ve walked a week in my shoes."
Chukalas had a similar reaction when he heard Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney say in a recently released video that 47 percent of America pays no income taxes, is dependent on government programs, and will therefore vote for Obama. "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," Romney said.
"I think I'm the kind of person he’s talking about, but without walking a week in my shoes, don't judge me," Chukalas said.
In his Rose Garden remarks in 2010, Obama urged the U.S. Senate to end a standoff that halted unemployment benefits for 2.5 million, including Chukalas and two other people who stood at the president's side.
"Jim has posted resumes everywhere, and even gone door-to-door looking for jobs, but hasn’t gotten a single interview," Obama said. "He’s trying to be strong for his two young kids, but now that he’s exhausted his unemployment benefits, that’s getting harder to do."
One of the other people who joined the president that day turned out to have a felony conviction, resulting in a nasty backlash. Chukalas said he didn't like getting swept up in the critical commentary on TV. "They started saying stuff like, 'What do we know about the other two? They couldn't find three people with a clean record?'"
Back then, combined state and federal unemployment insurance lasted up to 99 weeks. Now it's down to 73 weeks, and the number of people receiving benefits is declining faster than the number of people unemployed. At the end of the year, Congress must once again decide whether to reauthorize federal benefits or else leave the jobless with a maximum of 26 weeks.
Chukalas ran out of unemployment insurance long ago, but still does not have a job. With his two young kids back in school, he said he is revving up his job search and submitting resumes around town on Tuesday. Chukalas said his wife is still working and that his family is getting by with less.
"I've become a halfway decent housewife and a better cook," he said. "We could be worse off but we're surviving. I pretty much cut up the credit cards. If I can't afford it on my debit card, I don't buy it."
As for Romney's comments, Chukalas said he suspects there are some people who really are content to avoid work and receive government benefits -- just not nearly as many as Romney says.
"I’m sure some are content receiving a welfare check or unemployment check. Me, I wasn’t," he said. "At the same time, I want to think it's not 47 percent."
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"That's not the way I view the world. As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in. Too many people today who want to work are being forced into public assistance for lack of jobs," Scott said in an email to <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/senate-races/250157-sen-scott-brown-denounces-romney-comments" target="_hplink">The Hill</a>.
"He was obviously inarticulate in making this point," Ryan <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/paul-ryan-mitt-romney-video_n_1895403.html" target="_hplink">said</a> during an interview with a Nevada television station.
"This could be the opportunity for Romney, and for that campaign, to finally take the gloves off and take the fear off and just start explaining conservatism, start explaining liberty to people and what it means," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/rush-limbaugh-mitt-romney_n_1893882.html" target="_hplink">Limbaugh said</a> Tuesday. "And explain that they don't need to be in that 47 percent. There's no reason for them, for everybody to be -- essentially having given up on their future in this country. There's no reason for it. This is, to me, such an opportunity to espouse conservatism."
"Mitt Romney probably could have better explained himself. I think he was a little clumsy in doing this," <a href="http://thehill.com/video/house/249975-rep-allen-west-romney-a-little-clumsy-with-47-percent-comment" target="_hplink">West said</a> on Fox News.
"Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I'd put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney's comment is a country-club fantasy. It's what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney," <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/18/opinion/brooks-thurston-howell-romney.html?ref=davidbrooks" target="_hplink">Brooks wrote</a>. "He's running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?"
"It remains important for the country that Romney wins in November (unless he chooses to step down and we get the Ryan-Rubio ticket we deserve!). But that shouldn't blind us to the fact that Romney's comments, like those of Obama four years ago, are stupid and arrogant," <a href="http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/note-romney-s-arrogant-and-stupid-remarks_652548.html" target="_hplink">Kristol wrote</a>.
"He has to not apologize, because we've seen enough apologizing already, and he cannot apologize," <a href="http://thehill.com/video/campaign/249993-trump-romney-cannot-apologize-for-inartful-comments-at-fundraiser" target="_hplink">Trump said</a> on NBC News. "What he said is probably what he means." Trump also said that Romney's words were "inartfully stated."
"The Romney campaign should double down on what he said. They should own it. The trouble for the left and media (but I repeat myself) is that most Americans agree with Mitt Romney. Most Americans consider themselves part of the 53% and it is not a winning proposition for Barack Obama to convince Americans they are less than they think they are when most Americans already recognize he has made them less than they were," <a href="http://www.redstate.com/2012/09/17/treat-the-press-as-enemy-collaborators/" target="_hplink">Erickson wrote</a> in a blog post on RedState.com.
"[Romney] believes that every American has got to have skin in the game...he doesn't want what the president wants," <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/burns-haberman/2012/09/christie-romney-wants-to-empower-people-135893.html" target="_hplink">Christie said</a> on Fox News, adding that Romney wants to "empower individuals...and that's what he's really talking about."
"The idea that you're declaring, 'Well, the race is over. Mitt Romney doesn't care about people,'" <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/tv/laura-ingraham-fired-up-over-romneys-47-tape-its-ridiculous-this-is-getting-airtime/" target="_hplink">Ingraham said </a>on Fox News. "Meanwhile, you have a president whose policies have undermined the 47 percent. ... I'm very pumped up about this. I think it's ridiculous that people are seizing on it and that we're even giving all that much airtime to it, frankly."
"I disagree with Governor Romney's insinuation that 47% of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care. I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be. People today are struggling because the government has failed to keep America competitive, failed to support job creators, and failed to get our economy back on track," <a href="http://www.lindaforsenate2012.com/news/press-releases/2012/09/18/linda-mcmahon-response-to-mitt-romneys-remarks/" target="_hplink">McMahon said</a> in a statement.
"To read many of the reactions on Twitter, you'd think Mother Jones had just found video of Mitt Romney strangling a hooker with her own pantyhose," <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/322394/quick-thoughts-freeloaderdammerung-jonah-goldberg" target="_hplink">Goldberg wrote</a>. "Indeed, many people understand what Romney is getting at here, even if he's saying it badly."