Republicans from Mitt Romney to Bill O'Reilly repeatedly claim federal assistance programs like SNAP and unemployment are weakening America. But it turns out O'Reilly and his friends on the right are not telling the truth about federal assistance. Michael Eric Dyson clears up the facts and gets to the heart of this "weak" argument with MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter.
This week, Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly attempted to criticize the American work ethic. Specifically, he claimed more Americans than ever are on “some kind of means-tested government support” and that the “safety net” is eroding the country.
According to O’Reilly, “the president is creating a huge federal apparatus that is draining individual incentive and creating an underclass of Americans who aren’t willing to compete for prosperity.”
He says society tolerates “slackers” and “rewards irresponsible behavior.” He never says anything specific about any ethnic group, but the words he’s using give him away.
O’Reilly quoted some statistics, but didn’t cite a source. We dug through government data and couldn't find anything (even from Bill’s fans at the Heritage Foundation) to support his claims (we addressed those inconsistencies on The Ed Show Thursday night).
So we’re left to fact-check O’Reilly’s broader claims about “slackers” and women who “churn out kids” and “live on food stamps.”
Can anyone really prove Americans aren’t slackers, especially when Republicans keep repeating this vicious meme?
- "[President Obama’s] making us an entitlement society. Where people think they're entitled to what other people have." – Mitt Romney, Presumptive GOP Presidential Nominee, CNN Southern Republican Presidential Debate (January 19, 2012)
- "[President Obama] is systematically destroying the work ethic. How? By the narcotic of government dependency.” -- Rick Santorum, Former GOP Presidential Candidate (January 4, 2012)
- "We've gotten to be a society where we don't encourage the work ethic. Dependency's just fine." -- Newt Gingrich, Former GOP Presidential Candidate (February 20, 2012)
- “We're creating this sense of form of dependence, which to me is a form of modern, 21st century slavery." -- Rep. Allen West, (R) Florida (June 2012)
Narcotic. Entitlement. Slavery. Keep those modern day sentiments in mind as you read the next set of quotations.
They’re taken from school textbooks dating back to 1860. W.E.B. DuBois compiled these and a lot more in Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880:
- “Legislatures were often at the mercy of Negroes, childishly ignorant, who sold their votes openly, and whose ‘loyalty’ was gained by allowing them to eat, drink and clothe themselves at the state’s expense.” (William J. Long, “America – A History of Our Country,” p. 392)
- “This assistance led many freed men to believe that they need no longer work. They also ignorantly believed that the lands of their former masters were to be turned over by Congress to them, and that every Negro was to have as his allotment ‘forty acres and a mule’.” (W.F. Gordy, “History of the United States,” Part II, p. 336)
- “…the slave after he was set free was disposed to try out his freedom by refusing to work.” (S.E. Forman, “Advanced American History,” Revised Edition.)
Creepy, right? The point is that the Republican attack on “dependency” goes way beyond the raw data and the charts showing which Americans get assistance and how long they receive that assistance. It’s about bashing a class of people. It’s about calling Americans “lazy”. Bill O’Reilly never names the Americans he’s calling “slackers”.
He and a handful of powerful Republicans simply lash out in the language that dredges up racist attitudes circulating in post-Civil War America. How is that OK with Fox News viewers? Why would anyone want to hear these old fashioned, generalized statements at a time when we all need serious solutions about an economy in recession right now, in 2012?
Are there lazy Americans? Of course, and they come in all shapes, sizes and ethnicities. Are there people receiving federal assistance who are motivated and determined? Of course.
When you hear Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans disparage “dependency," remember that it’s really an insult to ALL Americans. They’re insulting a generous nation during a national economic crisis.
And it’s disgusting to invoke Shackles-to-Bootstraps language that subtly targets a group of Americans who helped build this country with whips at their backs, for no pay and no power for so long.