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Robert Houk

Opinion Page Editor
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As I See It

Ron Ramsey’s ‘lifestyle’ misses reality of Tennessee’s unemployed

November 21st, 2011 10:58 am by Robert Houk

A few months ago, I told you how much of a funny man Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey tries to be from time to time. Being a Methodist, he knows how to tell a corny joke without profanity or overt sexual innuendo. His comedy style, however, is not for everyone.
I doubt many unemployed Tennesseans were laughing at his comments a few weeks ago when he asked rhetorically, but quite seriously: When do unemployment benefits “become a lifestyle?” In fact, I’ve heard from many state residents with and without jobs who wonder if the lieutenant governor has any idea how difficult it is to feed a family and keep a roof over your head on an unemployment check of less than $280 a week.
Ramsey — who has been trekking across the state with his good buddies from the National Federation of Independent Business as part of his Red Tape Road Trips to hear stories of how state regulations are hampering entrepreneurship — also noted there “are jobs out there. ... It may not be the job you want, but there are jobs out there.”
One caller told me he was offended that Ramsey would characterize what has been a helping hand to the thousands of Tennesseans who have lost their jobs in recent years as some kind of government handout for the lazy. State records show about 400,000 Tennessee workers annually file for some sort of unemployment claim and 114,000 employers pay premiums for unemployment insurance. These benefits are limited ­— usually up to 26 weeks — but have been extended in recent years to respond to the state’s high unemployment rate.
As angry as many Americans were to the bailouts of the banks and Wall Street fat cats, there has been equal venom directed at the politicians who seem all too eager to scapegoat the working class. And insisting on tax cuts for the rich isn’t going over well with a majority of Americans. This fact has not gone unnoticed by political pollsters and Republican leaders in Congress, some of whom are now suggesting they might compromise a little on the subject in order to whittle down the national debt.
Many politicians — both Republicans and Democrats alike — often talk about the arrogance of government, usually missing the point that they themselves are the face of that very government. Ramsey’s comments on unemployment benefits perhaps best illustrate just how arrogant and out of touch politicians actually are when they callously suggest people who have seen their careers killed by the Great Recession and the not-so-great recovery are the ones to blame for not having jobs.
Telling people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps is one thing, but kicking the unemployed while they’re down is the height of insensitivity and arrogance. It’s the kind of thing you might expect from an unscrupulous corporate CEO who is content with collecting a fat bonus check for doing nothing more than sitting on his capital.
It’s not, however, something you want to hear from a lawmaker who will someday collect a handsome pension courtesy of state taxpayers. I guess you can call that not-so-little entitlement a “lifestyle” choice as well.

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