Got Empathy? Pitting Veterans Against the Unemployed Shows No Class

Allen West, and maybe GOP too, fail to learn from Romney's 47 percent mistake

Remember that rather stupid comment Mitt Romney made to a bunch of rich Boca Raton donors during his campaign that allowed Democrats to effectively define the GOP as the party of the rich?

Romney described President Obama supporters by saying "there are 47 percent who are with Obama, who are dependent on government, who believe they are victims, and who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them."

A true turning point in the election, that snobbish observation allowed the Obama campaign to ruin Romney's momentum, which was fueled by his criticism of the president's various failures such as the terrible economy and his foreign affairs disappointments.

Instead, Romney was perceived as a coldhearted rich guy without empathy.

That one statement allowed the Democrats to amplify a campaign strategy focused on social issues that pitted American against American.

Fast forward a year later. With the disastrous rollout of Obamacare, the Middle East in turmoil, and Americans starting to question the integrity of the IRS and the NSA, Republicans seem to be poised to win big in the 2014 mid-term elections.

Even once-staunch supporters of Obama are beginning to question his leadership.

Now there's a debate going on about extending unemployment insurance benefits, again, for 1.3 million out-of-work Americans, which dried up just before the new year. And despite some Republican resistance, the measure seems to be progressing to Obama's desk for signature.

That disappointed a lot of Democrats, who wanted to play that empathy card again.

Some Republicans get it. This depression has wiped out a generation of older workers whose jobs don't exist anymore. If they try to switch careers, they're competing against highly trained younger workers -- who are also unemployed.

"Everybody understands. The unemployment rate now in Nevada is at 9 percent," said GOP U.S. Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada.

But if a recent email from an indignant Allen West is any indication, some conservatives still don't get it -- not only about the poor, but a weary middle class.

This is what he wrote:

"During this first week with Congress back in session, we have been treated to an endless stream of progressive doublespeak and disappointing priorities. Before the end of the year, we were told it was a priority of Congress to restore the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) cuts to military veterans, which represents about $6 billion. Instead, all the talk was about continuing unemployment benefits for another 3 months, which coincidentally costs about $6 billion. There can be no doubt where the President's loyalties lie. It remains to be seen where Congress will stand."

Taking up where Romney left off, it's now veterans against the chronically unemployed.

West's statement is a pathetic attempt to stay relevant, or truly a cruel, misguided statement equating the chronically unemployed to bums and welfare cheats.

Maybe it's something in Florida's water.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has spent much of his first (and hopefully only) term making it as difficult as possible in his minimum-wage state for the unemployed to obtain benefits.

Florida's unemployment numbers look much better than Nevada's. Remember, when people give up looking for work and stop getting benefits, they fall off the radar and unemployment stats improve as they did in Florida.

Republicans need to find a way to work with Democrats to extend these benefits and pay for them by cutting fat from the federal budget. And, despite rants from attack dogs like West, that seems to be happening.

It's not only because politically this issue can rekindle the destructive fires stoked after Romney's 47 percent remark. That, in turn, can destroy recent GOP momentum leading into the midterm elections.

It's to prevent another 1 million Americans from becoming those "victims" instead of remaining working-class Americans.

Published in Florida Context on January 12, 2014