The first time I heard about sex and unemployment compensation I didn't believe either one. I thought the older boys were having a good time razzing me. As absurd as sex sounded to me, it was nothing compared to the absurdity of getting money from the government because you lost your job!
Almost 20 years later I applied for a job with a major national magazine, in the promotion department. One question on the application was: "Have you ever received or applied for unemployment compensation?" I had not and I so indicated.
I got the job and became quite friendly with the boss. "Frank," I asked him many months later, "is that really a fair question on the job application? I mean, it's no crime to get unemployment compensation." "It may not be a crime," he said, "but if a person doesn't have enough hustle to go out and sell newspapers or something rather than take money from the government, he's not the kind of person we want on our team." That was the mid-1950s!
This was not a Neanderthal aberration. It was the prevailing spirit of that period. But even while we were trashing those who sought and got unemployment compensation, we felt far removed from the earlier days of real American do-it-yourself. In fact, we were openly lamenting the loss of the good old spirit of American hustle. In those 1950s we feared the decline of self-reliance, independence, up-by-your-own-bootstraps would lead to the eventual evaporation of what we regarded as those sacred secrets of American exceptionalism. And so it has. If today that boss' comment in the 1950s had been taped and released to the media, he'd have been fired instantaneously and the corporation would have thrown itself forcefully on the floor at a press conference apologizing for such retrogressive utterances by a senior employee. That get-out-there-and-do-it-yourself spirit is now regarded as somewhere between incredible and laughable; even evil. And look at us!
I'm haunted by former communist Whittaker Chambers' comment when he bolted from the Communist Party and joined anti-Communist America. "I am going from the winning side to the losing side," he said. For two decades I thought he was being too pessimistic. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 I was sure of it. Now I'm entitled to wonder. America, the alleged Cold War victor, at least in one important way, is more ready, willing, and eager for communism today than Russia was at the time of the Communist Revolution in 1917. It's seldom voiced but widely felt: "Mr. State, please take care of me!"
The mask is off. I recently asked a radio audience, "What's the worst thing that's happened in America since you were young?" Everybody hit near, but nobody hit on the one thing I was thinking of. It wasn't the tsunami of drug use, the vulgarization of the culture, the collapse of national intelligence, the surge of people who don't belong here being made welcome, or anything related. What I was thinking of was that when I was young we voted, believe it or not, non-opportunistically. We never thought, "Which candidate is best for me personally?" Maybe the very rich with narrow but deep vested interests did. But most of us didn't. We argued, campaigned, and voted honestly and earnestly for those we thought would do the best job for the United States. No more. Now "Who will best advance my personal interests?" is paramount. "More money in your pocket!" is a vastly more seductive vote-getter than "best policies for America!" And that goes for every level of American business and personal life.
The comparison with the immune system is irresistible. There may be enough germs in a handshake to kill an army, but if you've got a good immune system you'll never feel a thing. If your immune system is shot, you’ll wither and die. Same with government "generosity." If you have a good immune system — meaning keen historical knowledge of the failure of every single collectivist society so far — you'll resist the lure of the handout. Otherwise, down you'll go to misery, poverty, repression, hopelessness, and late-night visits by the secret police. One scholar named 39 countries wrecked by communism. American leftists know this. Can you guess what the ardent Marxists say when confronted with that history? Ask them: "If you had a cat that tore up 39 of your sofas, would you go out and buy him a 40th?"
They don't fold and fall silent. Their eyes blaze as they repeat something like, "The Russian Communists were too backward. The Chinese were too dogmatic. The Hungarians were too frivolous. The Cubans were never really trained for it." And so on and on through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Bulgaria, Poland, East Germany, Albania etc. "They all did it wrong," insist the true believers of the left, “but we will do it right!"
Once the government handout no longer denies you a job in a proud company but instead makes you one of the "new masses" in good standing, then trying to recapture that storybook American hustle becomes like trying to organize an exercise class in an assembly of drug addicts.
What might save us? Immediately after his successful destruction of America's Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, educated in America, said, "I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant!"
And that's exactly what a furious young woman yelled in the face of Democratic Senator Arlen Specter who was trying to sell Obamacare at a town meeting in mid-August. Except she wasn't "fearing." She was hoping. The Obama bum’s rush of this highly questionable health plan may have shaken the American people out of their ignorance, apathy, and sloth.
Self-reliance was once so deeply embedded in the American character that a Southerner once described Paul Revere as "that Yankee who had to get on a horse and go ride for help!"
And then came the Niagara of government checks. And now the escalating roar of the town hall crowds as they awaken.
Once we lose too much American gut-muscle to convince ourselves that "we shall overcome!” there's always the redeeming possibility that "they shall overreach!"
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