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Jewish World Review
Nov. 1, 2012/ 15 Tishrei, 5773
The 'Free Obama Phone Lady' Video Goes Viral
Last week the video of the so-called "free phone lady" went viral. "Everybody in Cleveland know (sic) minority got Obama phone," the woman in the video contended. "Keep Obama in (sic) president, you know? He gave us a phone. He gonna do more." The concept of "going viral" refers to the idea that something people see or hear strikes them in such a visceral way, they feel almost compelled to share it with others. So what struck a national nerve here? Before proceeding, it should be noted that the comment section that usually accompanies YouTube videos has been disabled for this one.
That disablement neatly ties into the first and most obvious reason this video has been disseminated far and wide: race. While it is undoubtedly politically incorrect to say so, there is little doubt a black woman who essentially reveals herself to be semi-literate, very likely a ward of the state, and definitely invested in receiving at least one "free" government giveaway, validates a certain racial stereotype in the minds of many who watched the video.
Yet the issue is of stereotyping is complicated. It is one thing to make value judgements regarding this particular women, themselves based on less than a minute's worth of input. They may be right, or they may be wrong. Yet whether Americans want to admit it or not, that's what we do, almost reflexively. The assessment made above is based on what the woman herself says and, just as importantly, how she says it. Toss in the political component of a presidential race, and all of it likely contributes to the visceral feelings that have given this women her 15 minutes of fame.
The problem arises when one takes the actions of a single individual and extrapolates upon them to impugn an entire group of people. That is undoubtedly racist. Yet if we're being brutally honest here, there is little doubt that some of the sharing of this video is based on the idea that this woman exemplifies such extrapolations, no matter how misguided such feelings are.
But there's also the aspect of entitlement. Simply speaking, most Americans pay for their own cell phones and service providers, and some undoubtedly resent that this woman is apparently getting both, courtesy of a tax
attached to everyone's communications bills. They more than likely question how a government drowning in $16 trillion of debt can afford to spend $1.6 billion on such a program.
The answer to that question is obvious. Since the initiation of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society in the mid-1960s, the federal government has undertaken its self-appointed mission to "end poverty as we know it." It has also attempted to eliminate the economic disparities caused by a legacy of slavery. LBJ enacted Executive Order 11246 requiring government employers to take "affirmative action" to hire without regard to race, religion and national origin. The overall goal of both programs was to essentially make sure people like the free phone lady would grow up to be prosperous, educated and productive Americans, living in a color-blind society.
What we've gotten instead is a nation on the brink of fiscal insolvency. Despite $16 trillion of wealth re-distribution from the Haves to the Have Nots since 1965, the number of Americans living in poverty remains
monumental. 46.2 million Americans--including 16.1 million children--live below the poverty line. That number constitutes 15 percent of the nation's population. Moreover, affirmative action has devolved into a de facto quota system that exacerbates, rather than ameliorates, race relations in the minds of many Americans.
Thus, an obvious question arises: can we finally admit that this centralized, top-down, government-centric approach to America's problems is a failure?
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As we approach the election in November, it's a question that merits an honest discussion. Yet as we approach the election in November, an honest discussion about the genuine nature of our welfare state and its safety net, is the last thing Americans will hear anything about--unless it is accompanied by the knee-jerk cries of racism and bigotry for even suggesting the "free phone" mentality is indicative of a larger worldview among any particular subset of Americans.
Or is it a subset? Many Americans believe this is the election that may provide the definitive answer to that question. Does the "free phone" crowd--of every race, color and creed--now outnumber the people of every race, color and creed who provide the government with the revenue necessary to run such a program? The Lifeline program was instituted in 1984 to subsidize landline phone service for low-income Americans. It was funded by government-collected communication fees (read taxes) paid by consumers.
This particular aspect of the "safety net" was expanded in 2008 to include cell phones, at an initial cost of $772 million. By last year, the tab had increased to $1.6 billion. And as naturally as day follows night, just like every other government giveaway, abuse entered the picture: a 2011 audit revealed that 269,000 wireless Lifeline subscribers were receiving free phones--and monthly service from two or more carriers.
This brings us to another, less obvious component of why this video went viral. That component is morality--or more accurately, a seeming lack thereof. In short, our modern welfare state has produced legions of Americans more than willing to "game the system" for their own benefit. And make no mistake: such gaming transcends race and class. Whether it is a poor American scamming the welfare, food stamp or Social Security disability systems, or a rich American scamming Wall Street insider information, or establishing a crony capitalist/government nexus to stifle genuine competition, gaming the system has reached epidemic proportions.
And once again, the collapse of morality has it roots in the '60s. In that time of social upheaval, the Baby Boomer generation, most of whom were invested in removing the ostensible shackles imposed on them by the generation that fought WWll, simultaneously embraced moral relativity, and the secularism that facilitated its promulgation. Right and wrong were reduced to "shades of gray," and cries of Friedrich Nietzsche-inspired "God is dead!" echoed on college campuses around the nation. "Do your own thing" became the order of the day--even as the ruinous omission of what ought to have followed--"and accept the consequences of one's choices"--portended where America was heading.
We have long since arrived. Traditional understanding of right and wrong, and the religious institutions that buttressed that understanding, are in precipitous
decline. Between 2005 and 2012 alone, the number of Americans who consider themselves "religious" has dropped from 73 percent to 60 percent. What has replaced religion? It is no secret America is the most litigious
nation on earth. In other words, right and wrong have been supplanted by "legal" and "illegal."
But that's only half the equation. The other half is therapeutic. Bot
h the number of now-recognized mental "disabilities"--and the drugs used to treat them--have risen in almost exponential proportions. In 1987, prior to the introduction of Prozac, the U.S. mental illness disability rate
was 1 in every 184 Americans. By 2007, the rate had more than doubled, to 1 in every 76 Americans. As of last year, an astounding one-in-four
American women were on psych medications. Sales of Ritalin, usually administered to children for attention deficit disorder, also soared
83 percent between the years 2006 and 2010.
Have Americans become mentally unhinged at seemingly historically unprecedented levels? Perhaps more skillful diagnoses of mental problems has contributed to part of this explosion. But the bet here is that increasing numbers of Americans far prefer being categorized as "well" and "unwell"--as opposed to good and bad.
Such a re-calibration of the national ethos is implied by this video. Substantial numbers of Americans have long abandoned the notion that taking something for nothing is either shameful, or constitutes a lack of integrity. Thus, voting for the person who promises to give way the most "free stuff" becomes the dominant rationale. Yet the fact that this video went viral may also indicate that many Americans are fed up with such a status quo. Perhaps there are still a majority of us who recognize the difference between being our brother's keeper--and being his enabler.
Which brings us to yet another component that many Americans picked up on, consciously or otherwise. It is the ideological component. Quite simply, the current composition of our welfare state is fiscally unsustainable. Yet the American left not only remains completely invested in maintaining it, but committed to expanding it as the principle means of expanding their own power. Their formula for doing so is as simple as it is cynical: the more Americans we get dependent on government, the more Americans we get to vote for the party of ever-expanding government.
The first half of that formula is certainly working. A record-setting
8.7 million Americans are now collecting disability payments. This represents a four-fold increase relative to the number of working Americans over the past 45 years. In addition, 46 million Americans are receiving
benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also a record. With respect to the send half of the formula, even if we assume the overwhelming majority of people on such government programs deserve to be there, it is impossible to ignore the reality that millions of able-bodied Americans now prefer being on the dole over taking care of themselves.
It is also impossible to ignore the reality that government is facilitating them. For example, the qualification standards for claiming disability have been substantially relaxed
. A study conducted by the non-partisan National Bureau of Economic Research reveals that benefit awards for mental illness rose from 16 percent in 1983 to one third
in 2010. Awards for back pain rose from 13 percent in 1983 to 28 percent. Those increases were attributed to three factors: the Social Security Administration now places more weight on self-reported
pain and discomfort; the application process has been streamlined; and disability payments plus Medicare replaces almost 90 percent of one's working income.
It is also impossible to ignore the latest pushes towards dependency promoted by the Obama administration: they have gutted workfare reforms enacted during the Clinton administration, and encouraged cradle-to-grave government reliance, best expressed by the creepy "Life of Julia" story Obama's re-election website.
such realities impossible to ignore? Obscuring them has become child's play for the American left. In a nation filled with substantial numbers of morally-indifferent, economically-illiterate Americans, "the rich don't pay their fair share" truly resonates. It resonates despite the reality that the top ten percent
of wage-earning Americans now pay more than 70 percent of the nation's income taxes, and 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income taxes at all. It resonates because the human condition is hard-wired to contain a certain level of envy regarding someone else's success--especially when one's own life doesn't measure up by comparison.
Yet it is that hard-wired nature of the human condition that also contains the seeds of destruction for progressive ideology. In short, progressives have a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature. Every expansion of the welfare state is based on the premise that eliminating the obstacles of life that ostensibly inhibit success, will almost invariably cause people to pursue success. It is the idea for example, that giving people "temporary" assistance, be it food, housing--or a free cell phone--will give them time to gather their energies, and cross the threshold from dependency to independency, even as they remain eternally grateful to those who provide that assistance.
It's utter nonsense. In reality, the overwhelming majority of people are fallen creatures who travel the path of least resistance. An ever-expanding welfare state is constantly smoothing that path, even as the understanding of right and wrong that would normally mitigate peoples' desire to relinquish greater portions of their lives to government bureaucrats, is being undermined. Thus, it is also quite likely that people intuitively recognize the debasement of human dignity when they watch that video.
The leading edge of such ideologically-instigated debasement is currently playing itself out in Europe. Millions of people are furious, lashing out in all directions save one: at themselves, and the devil's bargain they collectively made with their respective welfare states. Welfare states that made utopian-esque promises impossible to keep. That is not to absolve the promisers, who were more than willing to ignore the inevitability of "running out of other people's money to spend" as long as they could maintain power. Furthermore, the reality that these power brokers in government and finance have made themselves whole once again, even as millions continue to suffer, cannot be ignored. But as it was noted above, the moral relativity engendered by the same leftist ideology that gave us those welfare states, is a scourge that knows no class boundaries.
Is it possible that so much of what is said here can be extrapolated from a video less than a minute long? Since YouTube disabled the comment section below the video, we can never know for sure. Perhaps they considered it better than letting what might have been an avalanche of racist rants gin up even more controversy than this video has already ignited.
On the other hand, it is no secret that the American left, and sadly, not an insignificant portion of the American right, would like to avoid any honest discussion of who we are, and
what we are becoming. Race, morality and ideology are weighty and difficult subjects to confront when America is prospering. As we remain mired in economic uncertainty--and on the cusp of what is likely to be an historic election--genuine forthrightness remains in short supply. For Barack Obama, such reticence is politically expedient. For Mitt Romney, it is unconscionably timid.
One may disagree with some, or all, of my analysis here. But one thing remains inarguable: the "free phone lady" video has gone viral. And we ignore the discussion it elicits, now matter how raw or unpleasant, at our national peril.
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© 2011, Arnold Ahlert