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Richard (RJ) Eskow

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Why Conservatives Punish Their Victims: A Lesson From Arizona

Posted: 06/20/11 11:40 PM ET

So far from God, so close to the Republican National Committee

When some Simpsons characters took refuge in the local church after a hurricane, the church marquee read "God welcomes his victims." With that invitation, Reverend Lovejoy (an underrated Simpsons character second only to Apu on my favorites list) was alluding to that thorniest of theological questions: If the Almighty loves us, why does He subject us to so many disasters?

Modern conservatives don't need to wrestle with that kind of moral dilemma. Today's Right hates its victims, and its leaders do everything in their power to make their suffering even worse. Arizona's Republican legislators, most of them self-professed Christians, aren't singing from God's hymnal. Instead they're channeling Lyle Lovett's memorably bitter and resentful song, "God Will," as they survey the people who have been trapped in the economic wreckage of their ideology:

"God may love you but I don't/God will but I won't/and that's the difference between God and me."

Kicking 'em while they're down

Arizona's conservatives have committed an extraordinarily mean and petty act, even by the low standards of today's Right. They've refused to change one word in a state law - a change that would have let at least 15,000 people keep receiving unemployment benefits. And they've done it even though it wouldn't have cost their state a penny.

Even Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, the guiding force behind last year's draconian anti-immigrant law (and at times so cartoonishly mean that she could be a Simpsons character herself), tried to get them to change their minds. Their response was, in effect, "You didn't ask us nicely enough." As Business Week reports, they were really holding this money hostage to push their usual corporate and rich-person menu of tax cuts and deregulation.

These Republicans used the usual right-wing euphemisms for their fealty to the rich and powerful, of course, by deploying the tired and discredited argument which Business Week summarized as "taking action on long-term measures such as business tax cuts and regulatory changes to spur the economy." Translation: They wanted more giveaways for their wealthy campaign donors.

A double dose of poison

What's happened to unemployment in Arizona?

2011-06-20-AZunemployment.JPG

A recession caused by deregulation nearly doubled Arizona's unemployment rate, and that's not even counting discouraged workers or the underemployed. Once their jobs were destroyed by deregulation, tax cuts failed to create any new ones. What are these Republicans pushing now? More deregulation and more tax cuts, of course. And the they're willing to sacrifice the people they've hurt to make it happen.

That's like forcing poisoning victims to drink a second helping.

Of course, these Arizona Republicans aren't just pushing financial deregulation. They're also pushing other kinds of deregulation, the kinds that will pollute the air and water, poison our kids, and endanger the safety of the fortunate few who actually have jobs.

But it's this act of gratuitous cruelty toward the unemployed that demands our attention. How can anybody live with themselves when they do something like this? Maybe every one of these Cruel Conservatives has his or her own motivation. Perhaps, like snowflakes, no two are alike.

One of them was from Snowflake, as a matter of fact - Snowflake, Arizona. State Sen. Sylvia Allen claims that she wouldn't vote for the one-word change because it would just be a "Band Aid" for a much deeper problem, one that can only be solved by - you guessed it - deregulation and tax cuts.

Blaming the Victims

But that doesn't answer the basic question: Why? Why attack people whose lives have been shattered by conservative policies? One answer is: Because their lives have been shattered by conservative policies. Once you accept the fact that the misfortune of the unemployed isn't of their own making, then you have to ask what caused it. And since that leads to an indictment of the right-wing agenda, these conservatives can't let that happen.

Which isn't to say that there aren't people who do believe the unemployed created their own problems, despite all evidence and logic to the contrary. Undoubtedly some conservatives are sincere in their loathing for jobless people, although that calls for a nearly sociopathic lack of empathy. But then, it's easier to develop that lack of empathy when entire cable networks and news organizations are dedicated to promoting it.

Other right-wingers may be acting from a more nakedly cynical calculus. But whatever their motivation, they're all arguing that unemployment benefits encourage people not to look for work. They're saying the unemployed don't want to work. But look at the graph again: They wanted to work in 2006, but they don't want to work now?

Of course, they'll say. The Democrats have created a welfare mentality. Sure. Everybody knows you can live like a king or queen on $240 a week, which is Arizona's maximum unemployment benefit. (It has the second-lowest unemployment benefit rates in the nation.)

Conservative Freeloaders

From Business Week:

"Eventually we have to quit paying unemployment benefits," said Republican Sen. Ron Gould of Lake Havasu City. "And when does it stop being unemployment benefits and begin just being cash assistance?"
The last time a study was conducted, Arizona was a "freeloader state" state that took in $1.30 in Federal money for every $1.00 it contributed in Federal taxes. Which raises the question: At what point does that 30-cent giveaway to bolster the prosperity of Sen. Gould's constituents stop being a case of one group of Americans helping another, and start "just being cash assistance?"

At last, after attending all those ribbon-cuttings for stimulus programs they opposed, these hypocritical conservatives have finally turned down some Federal money. They won't turn down money that boosts Arizona businesses, of course, but they'll happily refuse money that gives the unemployed the support most Americans know they deserve.

God may welcome his victims, but the Right doesn't.

Pardon my language

Somewhere there's a different United States, a nation that existed in the past - or perhaps just in the imagination. In that United States, conservatives are sincere and well-meaning individuals who merely have a different view of the world. That United States is invigorated and strengthened by an honest exchange of ideas between these conservatives and people of the moderate Left. Through high-mind debate they eventually agree on wise and judicious policies.

That's not the country we live in today. People like these Arizona legislators aren't high minded or well-meaning. That's why I'm not a big fan of bipartisanship - or what's called "moderation" nowadays, but is really just appeasement of a radical fringe.

Hey, I try to be thoughtful, considerate, well-spoken. I try to respect all points of view. It would feel good to adopt that lofty, "above the left and right" posture that makes a person look judicious and even-tempered in Washington nowadays. I've even been trying to clean up my language. But you know what? To me, Sen. Ron Gould of Lake Havasu City just seems like a dick.

I'm sure the Senators from Snowflake and Lake Havasu City are nice and decent enough as individuals. But politically they're neither. The pain they're inflicting is too brutal, too senseless, too pointless, to warrant "civil discourse." The kindest thing to be said right now about these Arizona conservatives and all those who support them is this: God may love Sen. Sylvia Allen, but I don't. God may forgive Sen. Gould, but I don't.

I guess that's the difference between God and me.

 

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