Middle-class Republicans like those in the audience at the Republican debate the other night have fully bought into the myth of Just Work Hard Enough™. It's why they applaud Newt Gingrich when he talks about food stamps, even though their neighbors (or perhaps even they themselves) are on the SNAP program. They applaud the talk about Fannie and Freddie when they themselves are sitting in a house that's worth half what they paid for it and unable to pay a balloon mortgage because they themselves listened to the mortgage broker explain that they can afford it because real estate always appreciates in value. They applaud this kind of talk because as long as they can believe that the decline and fall of the middle class is due to the personal failings of someone else, they don't have to look at how they too are getting screwed. They believe Mexicans are taking their manufacturing jobs, instead of at executives with eight-figure pay packages sending them to the cheapest overseas sweatshop they can find. They believe black people who are having entirely too much sex are driving Cadillacs (sic) and eating steak on their tax dollars. They believe that if we could just get rid of abortion and birth control, our society would magically look like this:
The Just Work Hard Enough myth dies hard. We've always believed that hard work inevitably leads to success, and that the U.S. is the most socially mobile country in the world. Recent trends have shown this to be no longer the case. My father rose out of poverty into the middle class because of the G.I. bill and free tuition at CUNY. My mother's parents joined many other immigrant Jews and attained the middle class through the retail garment business. Today tuition is out of raech for most American families without saddling their children with six figures of debt by the time they graduate. The mom and pop dress shop no longer exists, except at the very high end. Today's veterans face mass unemployment. Social mobility is limited at best.
I would hope that Mitt Romney's disclosure that he pays a lower tax rate than most working Americans because his earnings come from dividend checks rather than as reward for hard work. serves to wake people up to the reality in this country that it's not about hard work, it's about who you know and who you're willing to screw over in order to make a buck. But it probably won't, because I've seen comments on news sites that because Mitt Romney has to hire people to expand his California house, it means he's a "job creator." That this is temporary work much of which is probably being done by day laborers picked up from a street corner and put to work with no benefits, no guarantee of their safety, and sometimes no pay escapes them. Because if the people in that South Carolina audience don't believe that hard work gets rewarded, they might just have to start fighting back.
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