The GOP's Ongoing War to Re-Brand Poor People as "Lazy," "Freeloading"
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Indeed, Republican lawmakers love to infer that people who have lost there jobs and may be living in poverty just need to get off their butts and find work -- never mind that there are at least five unemployed Americans for every available job out there. Bootstraps, dammit!
The indefatigable right-wing media, meanwhile, goes beyond inference. Bill O'Reilly in 2005: "[Y]ou gotta look people in the eye and tell 'em they're irresponsible and lazy....Because that's what poverty is, ladies and gentlemen. In this country, you can succeed if you get educated and work hard. Period. Period."
Irresponsible and lazy. There you have it.
This blame-the-victim rhetoric and the profits-before-people attitude toward Medicaid fit neatly into the GOP's anti-poor agenda. Progressive blogger Richard Barry sums that agenda up nicely (via the Huffington Post).
[T]he right wing has cleverly twisted the truth to make its case. Health-care reform is well on its way to being successfully re-branded as another entitlement program for a slothful underclass. The Republican leadership talks about unemployment insurance like it's a reward for laziness amongst the needy. The sub-prime mortgage crisis is explained as poor people wanting a life to which they are not entitled (instead of the result of unscrupulous banking practices). Tax cuts for the über-wealthy are taken to be a reward for obvious virtue, while the "have-nots" are assumed to deserve their meager lot. And lastly, opposition to progressive immigration reform is clearly a part of this narrative.
This should give all of us pause, especially given last week's news that, even by official measures, there are millions more Americans living in poverty than originally thought. With the safety net eroding at an alarming rate, and Republicans doing everything they can to speed up that process, the new reality is that losing a job or contracting a serious disease could spell financial disaster for any of us. In our new economic and political environment, those "lazy," "freeloading" poor people aren't "other," as Republicans would like you to believe. They could be you.
Lauren Kelley is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to Change.org, The L Magazine and Time Out New York. She lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter here.