And they’re off! The Reno-Gazette Journal gives a blow by blow rendition of the match between Senator By Appointment Only™ Dean Heller (R-NV) and Representative Shelley Berkley (D-NV1). Senator Heller denied ever ever calling Nevadans who collect unemployment benefits “hobos.” The Las Vegas Sun also summarizes the rounds. About that “hobo” thing —
Here’s the original from February 23, 2010 from the Elko Daily Free Press (via LVSun)
Heller said the current economic downturn and policies may bring back the hobos of the Great Depression, people who wandered the country taking odd jobs.
He said a study found that people who are out of work longer than two years have only a 50 percent chance of getting back into the workforce.
“I believe there should be a federal safety net,” Heller said, but he questioned the wisdom of extending unemployment benefits yet again to a total of 24 months, which Congress is doing.
Spin Check Time: Senator Heller didn’t exactly equate Nevadans drawing unemployment benefits with the hobos of the Great Depression (actually hobos have a much longer and more colorful history), but the use of the term in the same sentence with a discussion of those drawing temporary unemployment benefits was unfortunate, and a bit crude.
What Senator Heller did say falls into the Red Meat for the Tea Party types who associate any form of government assistance with “socialism” and who all too often draw upon racial stereotypes to bemoan an ideological myth of the “Dependent Society.” This isn’t all that far from Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s line about the 47% of Americans who are freeloaders and moochers, in terms of decrying the availability of government programs to assist those in need, and those who don’t earn enough to be liable for federal income taxes.
One hallmark of GOP/Tea Party ideology is that government programs have the potential to reduce individual initiative — a theory popularized by the publication of President Herbert Hoover’s Rugged Individualism speech given on October 22, 1928. Almost exactly one year later, October 24-28, 1929 the speculation fueled stock market crashed in a heap.
The problem is that “rugged individualism” requires the revision of U.S. history — from a nation founded by groups of settlers, corporate in Virginia and religious organizations in Massachusetts, from traditions of communal barn raisings and quilting bees, and from wagon trains (only a few fools went west without company) to a nation supposedly inhabited by those who eschewed the accretion of communal power in the form of unions and government regulation of commerce.
There are distinct echos of President Hoover’s version of America in the rhetoric of Senator Heller and Governor Romney.