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Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010 06:16 am

Republicans out of touch as middle class sinks

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South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer called on embattled Gov. Mark Sanford to step down during a press conference on, Aug. 26, 2009, in Columbia, South Carolina.
PHOTO BY TIM DOMINICK /MCT

American politics is a hoot! Where else can raw ignorance rise to such high places — and then flaunt itself shamelessly for all to see?

For example, who needs Jay Leno or Conan O’Brien for comic relief, when we’ve got Andre Bauer? He’s the lieutenant governor of South Carolina (a state, by the way, that really is a comer on the political comedy circuit — especially after Gov. Mark Sanford’s madcap shtick last year involving his disappearance, the Appalachian Trail and an Argentine mistress).

But Sanford is leaving office, and Bauer, who is now a Republican contender for governor, is the state’s new star joker. He had ’em rolling in the aisles recently when he did a wild, slapstick routine on food stamps at a town hall meeting. Andre proclaimed that much of his political thinking was shaped by his grandmother and that he had learned a valuable lesson from her.

“She told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why?” he asked, pausing for comedic effect. “Because they breed! You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce.”

I tell you, Andre Bauer is an absolute scream!

But here’s the real punchline: The need for food stamps has been soaring as more and more Americans are falling out of the middle class into poverty. From 2000 to 2008, 5 million more were added to the poverty rolls, and that was before the economic collapse of the last two years. In fact, check this out Andre, and laugh if you feel like it: About 6 million Americans today are living entirely on food stamps — they’ve lost their jobs and have no other income. That’s one out of every 50 of us, and their numbers are growing rapidly. Now, isn’t that a hoot?

Well, one who’s not laughing is Republican member of Congress John Linder. This far-out Georgia right-winger is irked that America’s food stamp program will grow to more than $60 billion this year. “This is craziness,” Linder barked to a New York Times reporter. “We’re at risk of creating an entire class, a subset of people, just comfortable getting by living off the government.”

Comfortable? When was the last time this pampered lawmaker experienced the “comforts” of the food stamp life? Linder himself has been “living off the government” for 18 years, but at the high end — drawing $174,000 a year in pay, plus subsidized health care, a fat pension and generous perks of office.

Hypocrisy aside, Linder is an anti-government, laissez-faire extremist who buys into Bauer’s fantasies about lazy, good-for-nothing strays getting food stamps.

“You don’t improve the economy by paying people to sit around and not work,” he grumps, adding, “You improve the economy by lowering taxes.”

Really? Perhaps the gentleman from Georgia has forgotten that he and the whole Washington insider crowd tried that scam again and again throughout the past decade, slashing all sorts of taxes for corporations and the wealthy. Since Linder is a multimillionaire, that economic “plan” undoubtedly worked out splendidly for him.

For the middle class, however, the 10 years since January 2000 are known as “the lost decade.” In that period, the U.S. economy lost more jobs than it created — zero job growth. That’s the first decade since the end of the Depression that our country has had less than a 20 percent rise in job creation.

Also, after the 10-year frenzy of tax-cutting, middle-class families are earning less today, in real dollars, than they did in 1999. Add in skyrocketing health care costs and the plummeting value of people’s homes, and we get the harsh reality of mushrooming poverty.

So that “subset of people” on food stamps Linder so callously denigrates are his own spawn! The food stamp program has had to grow because the tinkle-down economy that he pushed has wrecked America’s middle class.

Does knocking poor people make these guys feel better about themselves? How pathetic. Bauer and Linder are living proof that when it comes to leadership, America has too many 5-watt bulbs screwed into 150-watt sockets.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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