Assholes who vote

I’m no David Brooks fan. Usually, if I see his column, I just pass it over. If I somehow get hooked into reading it, I usually give up in disgust after a few paragraphs, muttering to myself about what a clueless idiot he is.

But things have gone so far awry now that even clueless idiots are seeing it. Brooks points to a number of ideas for increasing employment that he says broad majorities in the U.S. support: “The federal government should borrow money at current interest rates to build infrastructure, including better bus networks so workers can get to distant jobs.” Some traces of clueless idiocy remain: “First,” he writes, “the government should reduce its generosity to people who are not working but increase its support for people who are.”[1] This sounds like kicking people even harder when they’re already down, something our society already does abundantly.[2] “Third, the immigration system should turn into a talent recruiting system, a relentless effort to get the world’s most gifted and driven people to move to our shores.”[3] As if there weren’t plenty of talented people looking for work in this country already.[4] But he also offers some tolerable ideas:

That means reducing health benefits for the affluent elderly. But it means, as Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute recommends, increasing wage subsidies when employers hire the long-term unemployed and issuing relocation subsidies so people in high unemployment areas can move.[5]

He advocates tax reform “that would simplify the code while subsidizing middle-class families” and “a doubling-down on human capital, from early-education programs to community colleges and beyond.”[6] This last idea is the only one that makes real sense, for it ties into a notion that humans exist for more than exploitive labor. Brooks deserves credit for recognizing this:

In our meritocratic culture, satisfying and stretching work has become a psychological necessity. More than ever before, we are defined by what we do. If you are of prime age and you are not in the labor force, or engaged in some deeply stretching activity like parenting, then you will begin to feel drained inside. If you are in a dysfunctional workplace with bad personal relationships and no clear purpose, a core piece of you will begin to degrade. If you are not earning enough money so you can feel respected, and live without desperate stress, you will begin to lose confidence and élan.

And that is what’s happening today. The labor force participation rate is at its lowest in decades. Millions are in part-time or low-wage jobs that don’t come close to fulfilling their capacities. Millions more are in dysfunctional or unhealthy workplaces, but they don’t feel they can leave because they don’t think there are other jobs out there that pay the same amount.

The country is palpably in the middle of some sort of emotional recession. Yet over the past five years, the political class has done essentially nothing. That will fill future generations with astonishment and should fill the current generation with rage.[7]

The jobs that Brooks rightly condemns are precisely those whose number has seen the most growth.[8] It seems that just because corporations claim they offer good jobs, politicians sing their praises,[9] even when they’re abusive as hell.[10] Further, even though so-called “free” trade has been a disaster for workers, mainstream politicians keep pushing for it.[11]

In his columns, Brooks spills by far the majority of his ink enabling the very mainstream political culture that is so poisonous both for workers and for would-be workers. This is the same mainstream political culture that confines itself to a “politics of the possible” that shifts ever rightward and that Obama’s supporters expect us to celebrate. It is the same mainstream political culture that limited itself to an economic stimulus package that Paul Krugman somewhat[12] presciently described as

look[ing] like a plan that falls well short of what advocates of strong stimulus were hoping for — and it seems as if that was done in order to win Republican votes. Yet even if the plan gets the hoped-for 80 votes in the Senate, which seems doubtful, responsibility for the plan’s perceived failure, if it’s spun that way, will be placed on Democrats.

I see the following scenario: a weak stimulus plan, perhaps even weaker than what we’re talking about now, is crafted to win those extra GOP votes. The plan limits the rise in unemployment, but things are still pretty bad, with the rate peaking at something like 9 percent and coming down only slowly. And then Mitch McConnell says “See, government spending doesn’t work.”[13]

It is now widely expected that Republicans will gain control of the Senate as a result of the November election in just a few days. This will be because many people who might be expected to support Democrats are less than enthusiastic. They won’t turn out because

[i]t seems as though a common thread here is that these candidates, all of whom are in tight races, are running as far and as fast from many progressive positions as they can. Yet they want our money and our votes. Because – they tell us – the Republicans will literally bring about the apocalypse and, even if none of these candidates can bring themselves to act like Democrats, they’ve still got that D after their name. Which, of course, is all that matters. . . .

The party expects its loyalists to go along, as they have for so many years, voting for whatever sorry excuse for a Democrat they put before the voters because the alternative would be a disaster. It’s long past time for that to stop, for the party to stand for something more than being a slightly more palatable option, for the party to take an actual stand on issues instead of using fear to bully voters into giving them money and our votes. That’s not a choice between two opposing sets of public policies.[14]

But the “slightly more palatable option” is precisely what a two-party system is rigged to give us. It protects the status quo.[15] And if the status quo isn’t good enough for you, then you’re just fucked.

That’s why I take personal offense at the insistence I should vote. This is a status quo that has prevented me from earning a living for over thirteen years and left me entirely unemployed for over five. I guess that’s just supposed to be okay with me. Certainly that’s what many my so-called friends, especially the ones who haven’t lifted a finger to help me find employment, all seem to think.

Thanks, assholes.

  1. [1]David Brooks, “The Working Nation,” New York Times, October 23, 2014,
  2. [2]Herbert J. Gans, The War Against The Poor: The Underclass And Antipoverty Policy (New York: Basic, 1995); Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  3. [3]David Brooks, “The Working Nation,” New York Times, October 23, 2014,
  4. [4]Tom Hamburger, Carol D. Leonnig and Zachary A. Goldfarb, “Obama’s record on outsourcing draws criticism from the left,” Washington Post, July 9, 2012,; Karin Klein, “The truth about the great American science shortfall,” Los Angeles Times, February 24, 2014,,0,6706502.story; Carlton Meyer, “America’s 20 Percent Unemployment Rate,” Truthout, April 10, 2009,; Robert Oak [pseud.], “ObamaCare gets outsourced amid unemployment crisis,” New York Post, January 18, 2014,; Anna M. Tinsley, “Texas engineer, whose wife sent Obama his résumé, still unemployed,” McClatchy, April 9, 2012,
  5. [5]David Brooks, “The Working Nation,” New York Times, October 23, 2014,
  6. [6]David Brooks, “The Working Nation,” New York Times, October 23, 2014,
  7. [7]David Brooks, “The Working Nation,” New York Times, October 23, 2014,
  8. [8]Adam Hersh, “Economy’s New Jobs Strain to Deliver Middle-Class Wages,” Center for American Progress, June 6, 2014,; Annie Lowrey, “Recovery Has Created Far More Low-Wage Jobs Than Better-Paid Ones,” New York Times, April 27, 2014,;
  9. [9]Daniel D’Addario, “Amazon is worse than Walmart,” Salon, July 30, 2013,; Alex Seitz-Wald, “Amazon is everything wrong with our new economy,” Salon, July 30, 2013,; Joan Walsh, “Poverty nation: How America created a low-wage work swamp,” Salon, December 15, 2013,
  10. [10]Peter Dreier, “Labor Board Sides With Workers: Walmart Can’t Silence Employees Any Longer,” Nation, November 19, 2013,; Timothy Egan, “Walmart, Starbucks, and the Fight Against Inequality,” New York Times, June 19, 2014,; Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (New York: Owl, 2001); Josh Eidelson, “Finally paying for Wal-Mart’s sins: Wage theft settlement yields millions,” Salon, December 16, 2013,; Josh Eidelson, “Wal-Mart faces warehouse horror allegations and federal Labor Board complaint,” Salon, November 18, 2013,; Josh Eidelson, “Freezing for Wal-Mart: Sub-zero warehouse temperatures spur Indiana work stoppage,” Salon, January 13, 2014,; Simon Head, “Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers,” Salon, February 23, 2014,; Allison Kilkenny, “Cleveland Walmart Holds Food Drive For Its Own Employees,” Nation, November 18, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “The Plight of the Employed,” New York Times, December 24, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “The Fear Economy,” New York Times, December 26, 2013,; Edward McClelland, “You call this a middle class? ‘I’m trying not to lose my house’,” Salon, March 1, 2014,; Nathaniel Mott, “From Amazon warehouse workers to Google bus drivers, it’s tough working a non-tech job at a tech company,” Pando Daily, October 9, 2014,; Bill Moyers, “Restoring an America That Has Lost Its Way,” October 9, 2014,; Hamilton Nolan, “What Is Life Like For an Amazon Worker?” Gawker, July 29, 2013,; Robert Reich, “The ‘Paid-What-You’re-Worth’ Myth,” March 13, 2014,; Marc Pilisuk and Jennifer Achord Rountree, “Why We Allow Concentrated Corporate Power to Inflict Violence and Injustice,” Chap. 9 in The Hidden Structure of Violence (forthcoming); Ari Rabin-Havt, “Wal-Mart flunks its fact-check: The truth behind its sarcastic response to the Times,” Salon, June 25, 2014,; Josh Eidelson, “Amazon Keeps Unions Out By Keeping Workers in Fear, Says Organizer,” Alternet, January 22, 2014,; Spencer Soper, “Inside Amazon’s Warehouse,” Morning Call, September 18, 2011,
  11. [11]David Brodwin, “Trans-Pacific Partnership Is a Bad Trade Deal,” U.S. News and World Report, April 19, 2013,; Dave Johnson, “Multinationals Are Plotting to Steamroll What’s Left of Our Democracy to Make Huge Profits,” Alternet, August 20, 2013,; Dave Johnson, “NAFTA At 20: 1 Million Lost Jobs, 580% Increase In Trade Deficit,” Campaign for America’s Future, December 30, 2013,; Democracy Now!, “NAFTA at 20: Lori Wallach on U.S. Job Losses, Record Income Inequality, Mass Displacement in Mexico,” January 3, 2014,; Zoë Carpenter, “Keeping a Massive Trade Deal Out of the Fast Lane,” Nation, August 22, 2013,; DSWright [pseud.], “AFL-CIO Campaigns Against Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Firedoglake, September 4, 2013,; DSWright [pseud.], “Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Remove What’s Left Of American Democracy,” Firedoglake, August 20, 2013,; Erika Eichelberger, “The Biggest Secret Trade Deal You’ve Never Heard Of, Explained,” Mother Jones, July 10, 2013,; Michael Goodwin, “The TransPacific Partnership and ‘Free Trade’,” Economix Comix, 2014,; Tom Hamburger, Carol D. Leonnig and Zachary A. Goldfarb, “Obama’s record on outsourcing draws criticism from the left,” Washington Post, July 9, 2012,; Annie Lowrey, “Obama and G.O.P. Facing Opposition to Trade Pacts,” New York Times, January 30, 2014,; Elaine Magliaro, “President Obama Trying to “Fast Track” the Trans Pacific Partnership—a Trade Pact That Could Be Worse Than NAFTA,” Jonathan Turley, September 28, 2013,; Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, “NAFTA at 20,” Public Citizen, January, 2014,; Jon Queally, “White House Selling ‘Free Trade’ and ‘Fast Track,’ But Who’s Buying?” Common Dreams, January 21, 2014,; David Sirota, “Obama Manufacturing Jobs Proposal Slammed By Unions,” International Business Times, July 23, 2014,; Adam Weissman, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership: The Closed-Door Deal To Establish Corporate Power,” Occupy Wall Street, n.d.,
  12. [12]In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics seasonally unadjusted U-3 measure peaked at over 10 percent in January through March, 2010 and the adjusted measure peaked right at 10.0 percent in October, 2009. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Household Data, Table A-1. Employment status of the civilian population by sex and age,”
  13. [13]Paul Krugman, “Stimulus arithmetic (wonkish but important),” New York Times, January 6, 2009,
  14. [14]Akira Watts, “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Notes on a Wretched Election Season,” Truthout, October 24, 2014,
  15. [15]Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 2005).

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