Jeb Bush put his foot in it last week when explaining his aspirations for improving the economy. His assertion that “people need to work longer hours” continues to prompt outrage. Even looking at it in context doesn’t help much – “My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours.” Jeb Bush could have avoided all the ensuing brouhaha by embracing Mike Dukakis’ slogan when he was running against Jeb’s father for President in 1988: “good jobs at good wages.”
As it was, the former Florida governor had to backtrack and explain that, with nearly seven million people limited to part-time, they’re really struggling and deserve an opportunity to work more hours. But the damage was done. Red meat to the Democrats. Even Hillary Clinton, who has done her best not to engage in policy questions, was quick to weigh in, charting the stagnation of wages over time despite increases in productivity. Democrats and even some of Bush’s Republican opponents joined the effort to link Bush’s remark with Mitt Romney’s 47 percent remark, dismissing nearly half the population as parasites who freeload their way through life.
Paul Krugman calls this “the laziness dogma,” and he says that Bush is merely representative of his party, which ideologically blames individuals for an unwillingness to step up to the plate and assume responsibility for their livelihood. I’d like to think that Jeb Bush is more moderate than his fellow partisans and give him the benefit of the doubt that this incident was a huge verbal blunder, tin ear and all that. I’d like to assume he knows that well-paying blue collar jobs have gone away, that struggling parents are holding down two or three jobs to make ends meet, that companies are transforming what once were fulltime jobs with benefits to part-time jobs without. I’d also like to see concrete plans from candidates on both sides of the aisle for strengthening the economy, generating fulltime jobs with upward opportunity, paying more than bare sustenance wages, providing affordable medical coverage, and, in short, expanding rather than shrinking the middle class. For now, sadly, that seems too much to ask.
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