America the Aspirational

For the last five months, I’ve been unemployed.

If you’re a journalist, being unemployed, especially lately, isn’t something that’s foreign to you. It’s kind of par for the course, especially as the business contracts. But it’s still not anyone’s idea of fun. You make a lot less money with unemployment compensation than you do from a job and most of the time you find yourself without health insurance, something that as a diabetic is pretty important to me.

But while I’m technically unemployed, I’m still working pretty hard. I’m in graduate school so I have papers to write, research to do, and I’m also freelance writing, trying to learn new things and looking for a job. I’m not just sitting around eating bon-bons and watching television.

However to hear former Congressman Tom Delay tell it, I’m a welfare queen.

According to the “Dancing with the Stars” alum, collecting unemployment encourages laziness and because of this, unemployment compensation should be shortened. No extensions should be granted because extensions just allow these lazy asses to continue to sit on their butts and collect a check.

Spoken like someone who has lived in subsidized housing for a chunk of their life and made a living off of my tax dollars.

(What, you didn’t know that the White House was public housing and that Congressmen get the equivalent of a Section 8 check to help them maintain a home? Where have you been?)

The thing that pisses me off regarding Delay’s sermonizing is that it doesn’t take one very important thing into consideration: people aren’t hiring. Congress can pass as many jobs bills with as many tax cuts for businesses that hire new workers as it wants, but unless the economy improves enough to make businesses want to take advantage of these tax breaks, they’re meaningless.

Delay also doesn’t take into consideration the fact that folks are trying to do anything they can to bring money home for their families. Hell, I took the damned Census exam and have even applied for a job at Wawa.

But his attitude doesn’t surprise me. I mean hey, when you were among the group that put us in the economic mess in which we find ourselves, you’re going to spend a little time in Denialville when your handiwork and it’s consequences rear their ugly heads.

However, the main reason why Delay’s attitude doesn’t surprise me is because he’s bought into the lie that is America.

As the title of this post suggests, America, I believe, is aspirational. That means that just about everyone in this country aspires to be something other than who they are at the moment.

Part of this belief in the aspirational properties of America is the belief that if you simply work hard, do what your told, and follow the rules, you too can be ____________ (rich, famous, respected, or all of the above). Don’t believe me? Ask yourself why magazines like “People” and television shows like TMZ are so popular.

While that’s a nice theory in which to believe, it would require a lot of changes in this country for it to be actually true.

For one thing, the playing field that is America would have to be truly level. Now before my white, male readers view this as an attack on them, let me explain. When I say the field would have to be level, I’m talking about class. If you’re a rich white dude, you’ve got resources that poor white dudes don’t. Those resources can put you on the right track, even if you’re as dumb as a box of rocks.

(Insert George W. Bush joke here.)

However, if you’re poor, a person of color or a woman, the playing field that is America has some landmines for your ass. Between having to negotiate a possibly substandard school system, not having the resources you need to accomplish what you want to pull off, and being held back by either your class, race or gender (let’s just put that out there), you’re faced with having to work twice as hard to get half as far.

But while we recognize the unfairness of it all, we bust our behinds nonetheless because like all Americans, we too are aspirants. We read the same magazines and watch the same television shows. We want the Glamorous Life. Who wouldn’t?

However, some of us need a little help as we make our way up the aspirational ladder and that’s what things like unemployment and welfare represent.

It’s too bad that folks like Tom Delay would rather see folks starve while trying to reach their higher ground.



  1. You'd think Republicans would have more regard for the jobless. They did so much to create so many of them.

    Take it from someone who once went an entire year without a job and took jobs paying as little as $100 a week just to make some contribution to the family, you can't beat yourself up when you're out or work. Consider the source of where this ignorance and scorn directed against the unemployed and you realize while you may not be part of the work force, at least you're not some dumb-ass Republican.

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