Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 9:55 am | Fair 64º


Joe Conason: Change in the Wrong Direction

Frustrated voters should choose carefully in upcoming elections, or what they get may be far different from what they want

The headline for the latest poll says public confidence in President Barack Obama has sunk to a new low, with a majority of Americans saying they don’t trust him to make the best policy choices, especially on the ailing economy.

Joe Conason
Joe Conason

These same voters, surveyed by The Washington Post and ABC News, are even more disdainful of Congress, split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Those numbers may portend a shift in partisan control of the House and a loss of Democratic seats in the Senate if citizens express their anger by punishing incumbents.

But the furious and frustrated electorate should be careful when they demand change in the upcoming midterm elections — because what they get may well be very different from what they actually want.

To understand why, let’s look again at the findings of that poll. While that survey (and many others) show Americans deeply polarized over partisan preferences, the Obama presidency and other questions, there is broad agreement on at least one critical issue: extending unemployment benefits for the millions who have lost jobs and remain out of work.

Fully 62 percent said Congress should continue to extend benefits; only 36 percent said it should not, with 2 percent undecided. Most independents joined most Democrats in supporting extended benefits — and even 43 percent of Republicans agreed.

But when Republican congressional and Senate candidates are asked that same question, their responses are negative — strangely and sometimes harshly out of touch with the realities of American life.

Listen to Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Nevada, a Scientology adherent who also favors returning the country to prohibition of alcohol. Although there are five unemployed workers in this country for every available job, she believes that unemployment insurance is keeping people from seeking work.

“You can make more money on unemployment than you can going down and getting one of those jobs that is an honest job but it doesn’t pay as much,” she said not long ago. “We’ve put in so much entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry.” She is not only heartless but badly misinformed, since she apparently doesn’t know that the average weekly unemployment check is scarcely higher than the minimum wage in most places. It would be educational for her to attempt to maintain a family with that level of income.

Not every Republican running for office this year necessarily shares that brutal viewpoint, and few of them are stupid enough to say so as bluntly as Angle. Yet the idea that unemployment benefits ought to be cut off to encourage people to find work — even when there is no work to be found — reflects the Republican consensus.

Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul, for example, sees cutting off benefits as “tough love.” The only way to revive the economy, in his view, is for Americans to “accept a wage that’s less than we had at our previous job in order to get back to work.”

Neither Paul nor Angle should be seen as outside their party’s mainstream. In the Senate, Republicans have consistently blocked the extension of unemployment benefits using similar arguments. Sen. Jon Kyl, the Arizona Republican who holds his party’s second-ranking position in the Senate, explained last March on the Senate floor that he would vote against extending benefits because unemployment insurance “doesn’t create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.”

Such is the Republican vision in 2010, echoing that of the 19th century: a nation of workers toiling longer hours for far less money, descending to the threshold of poverty. Nobody who votes for them in anger should complain when that is what America becomes.

Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >