News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Editorials

November 25, 2012

EDITORIAL: Put ‘takers’ talk to rest

Post-election blaming rant divisive distortion

In this season of giving, it’s ironic to hear such bitter words about “takers” in America.

That bleat represents a vitriolic response to President Obama’s re-election by his most strident opponents. The reason for his victory, according to a post-election assessment by Mitt Romney, the defeated Republican candidate, was “extraordinary financial gifts from government” by the president to certain groups of Americans — specifically, young people, Latin-Americans, African-Americans, and women. Free stuff. Government checks. Get in line.

The claim is a sure-fire way to stir up “hell yeahs” from like-minded people, long Facebook rants, and chain emails. The stereotyping also is unfair, distorted and inaccurate.

One of the most popular assertions by those angered by the vote involved “Obama phones” handed out by the administration for free to welfare recipients, who then presumably voted for the president. The accusation got repeated at a Romney campaign rally by the Florida agriculture commissioner, and then spread nationwide through a video of a woman claiming to have received one of the “Obama phones.”

A chain email expressed outrage that such a practice threatened bedrock principles of God, family and hard work, according to the Tampa Bay Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact.com fact-checking team. The problem is, the Lifeline program (that’s the actual name, rather than “Obama phones”) was created in 1985 and expanded in 2008 under President Bush. It subsidizes phone service for low-income people. In 2012, the Federal Communications Commission actually modernized Lifeline to reduce fraud and waste, and ensure broadband availability to low-income Americans, PolitiFact found.

The Florida ag commissioner, Adam Putnam, retracted his comment, PolitiFact reported, posting on his own Facebook page, “About those cell phones: I’d heard about the YouTube video, wasn’t aware it was disclaimed. Won’t happen again.”

That’s the sad reality of the takers-versus-makers depiction of the nation. It panders to the baser human instincts and perpetuates fallacies.

A much different, refreshing response to the election came from the incoming chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor. Last Sunday on “Fox News Sunday,” Jindal distanced himself from comments by Romney, who earlier in the campaign famously wrote off 47 percent of America as unwilling to take personal responsibilities. Of the GOP, Jindal said, “If we want people to like us, we have to like them first,” adding, “You don’t start to like people by insulting them and saying their votes were bought. We are an aspirational party.”

Like Jindal, fellow Republican Carlos Gutierrez, former Commerce secretary under President Bush, voiced plans for action, rather than cynicism. Gutierrez, according to The Associated Press, is forming a super political-action-committee to support Republican candidates who endorse immigration reform, including legalizing the status of 11 million immigrants now living in the U.S. without authorization. A gift to buy votes? No. The immigrants, Gutierrez told CNN, “risk their lives, and they come here and they work because they want to be part of the American dream. That is what the GOP is.”

Those who continue to blame “takers” only divert the healthier, meaningful debate about strengthening the economy, and expanding opportunity. Before clicking “Like” on a Facebook tirade, consider some numbers: Seventy percent of U.S. counties with the fastest growth of food-stamp assistance during the past four years voted for the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, in 2008, Bloomberg news service reported, quoting U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Why? The same reason it increased in other regions — the brutal recession.

Also, remember that favorable government policies and benefits to defense, energy and international corporations could also qualify those multi-billion-dollar entities as takers.

Instead, as the holidays unfold, let’s give the “takers” talk a rest. It’s time to move on.

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