Los Angeles Times
How the Politicos Stole Christmas
November 26 2002
What a lousy Christmas present.
On Dec. 28, three days after the celebration of a man famous for helping
the downtrodden, Republican scrooges and Democratic stooges in Congress
will hand 800,000 Americans something far worse than a lump of coal: an
end to unemployment benefits the Senate had earlier voted to extend.
Affected parents are now likely to spend the holidays putting on a brave
face for the kids, wondering how they're going to pay the rent come New
An additional 90,000 unemployed workers will lose their benefits in each
subsequent week of 2003 because the Republican leadership of the House
refused to back an extension. This was too much even for Sen. Arlen
Specter (R-Pa.), who said: "It's unconscionable for us to leave town
without fixing unemployment compensation. The political symbolism of it
is just horrendous."
Neither harsh reality nor "political symbolism," however, moved President
Bush to intervene. For all of Bush's crocodile tears about those who
suffered the loss of jobs in an economy soured by a burst stock market
bubble, terrorist attacks and corporate scandals, he did nothing to ease
the burden on unemployed workers. To be charitable, it is possible that
the president does not know what an unemployment check is, or why the
failure to receive one in the dead of winter could harm a family's values
-- like the value of keeping the heat on or of having a roof over one's
Evidently, there is only so much compassionate conservative spirit to
spread around, and most of it has been reserved for welfare-addicted
basket cases such as the insurance and airline industries. Now it is the
giant drug companies that have received a holiday bonus.
The pharmaceuticals earn huge profits from government-granted drug
patents but evidently will not produce new vaccines for the public's
security unless they are guaranteed a risk-free environment. Thanks to a
provision tacked onto the homeland security bill, they are now inoculated
against responsibility for injuries or deaths caused by vaccinations,
whether given in the past or the future.
We need a Charles Dickens to capture the heartlessness of Bush economics,
but in his stead we'll quote Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.): "I find it
outrageous that the Congress is going to find room in its heart to help
the poor, downtrodden drug companies but will not find room in their
hearts to deal with the problems of the long-term unemployed."
Outrageous, but not surprising. The unemployed don't have much to give in
campaign contributions, while the drug companies stuffed most of their
$30 million in donations into Republican stockings during the last
The White House does have something to offer those struggling during this
tepid "jobless recovery" -- the siren songs of patriotism, whose sweet
notes overwhelm the sour tastes of raw fear and material insecurity left
in the wake of recession and terrorist attacks.
Whenever the drums of war beat loudest, ordinary people accept economic
deprivation while the rich find ways to further enrich themselves. Not
that they'll have to look very hard.
While denying a few hundred bucks to unemployed workers, the Bush
Republicans are still moving aggressively to extend and make permanent
their budget-busting 2001 tax cut for the rich and to eliminate the
inheritance tax, thereby widening the gap between haves and have-nots.
When asked by a Los Angeles Times reporter how he could explain tax cuts
for the rich to an unemployed worker, Sen. Specter, a GOP stalwart,
bravely broke ranks long enough to reply: "I'm going to say to him, 'We
did you wrong.' "
The senator shouldn't sound so surprised. The Republicans are simply
being consistent, and the results are predictable. The rich get richer,
while the middle class steadily erodes as solid jobs are lost to cheap
labor abroad, whose docility is guaranteed by friendly dictatorships
backed by American firepower.
Wrap this rip-off in the cloak of God and country and it apparently
sells, as the last election demonstrated. Doesn't it mock the spirit of
Christ -- which the powerful conservative Christians in the GOP publicly
claim informs their every decision -- to so blatantly betray the needy as
we celebrate a savior of the poor?