Could I Possibly Be Agreeing with Frank Underwood???

For those of you without a Netflix account, shame on you! That means that you likely have never watched House of Cards. Kevin Spacey's exquisitely played character, Francis J. Underwood, is the protagonist of this series, now in its third season.

Caution: Spoiler Alert. Plot twists ahead.

To call Frank Underwood "ambitious" would be like calling Donald Trump "an achiever." Underwood grew up poor in rural Gafney, South Carolina, went to college at The Sentinal (Citadel, anyone?), then ended up running for Congress in South Carolina's 5th District after marrying Claire, a young, well-to-do college girl from suburban Dallas.
In Season 1 he was the House Majority (Democrat) Whip. Denied his promised Secretary of State position after helping with the election of President Garrett Walker, and feeling double-crossed, he and Claire went on a conniving and scheming (and somewhat murderous) tear in Washington DC. In Season 2, as a classic manipulator and puller-of-strings, he became Vice President, then managed to cause President Walker to resign, leaving Frank, at the end of the season, as the assumptive President.

Season 3 begins with President Underwood about six month into a two year term looking for something to be his signature accomplishment. He decides upon "America Works", a bold plan to put 10 Million Americans back to work, funded largely by raiding the funding for Social Security and Medicare. Needless to say, this upsets a few constituencies in DC and across America.

Since neither party in Congress will agree to funding AmWorks, President Underwood decides to do an Obama and perform a little 'extra-legislative' activity. He decides to declare unemployment a national emergency and solving it a matter of life and death. He takes $3 Billion from FEMA (it is, after all, a Federal Emergency) and working with the Mayor of Washington DC (since the District of Columbia is not a state, but a Federally-controlled jurisdiction) signs up folks for jobs. 10,000 jobs are created in a short time. Several Congresspeople start liking it. One Congressman said on Meet The Press, "I was leery at first, never liking what Frank Underwood does, but the park near my house is the cleanest I have ever seen it." (paraphrased)

While his methods are illegal and unsustainable ("by the time they come after me in court, 50,000 people will have jobs and they could never take it away"), there is something to be said for using Federal money to get work out of people. Franklin D. Roosevelt popularly created the Work Progress Administration (WPA) to take out-of-work skilled workers (artists, wood workers, craftsmen, machinists, etc.) and put them to work creating some of our nation's most venerable landmarks and attractions.

Some attribute the decade-long struggle for the US economy to shake the Great Depression, upon government interference of free-market forces, but in reality, people had to eat and equally important, people had to work.

So, how do I agree with Frank?

I have long advocated revamping unemployment insurance and welfare to require some sort of "give-back" in return for cash payments and payments-in-kind. How is it that we sit around and bemoan the fact that there is no money to pick up litter, spruce up our highways and green spaces, provide day care for low-income workers, and a thousand other examples of public services we all would be happy to have done for "the common good"? We, the people, are paying perfectly capable individuals to stay home or to ostensibly look for work, with no expectation of any sort of quid pro quo? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Labor Force Participation Rate of 62.8% is the lowest it has been since 1978 (it was lower prior to that year because many women were not looking for jobs outside the home.)

Since this is an opinion piece and not a college term paper, let's wrap this thing up. Is it too much to ask people who are drawing support and subsidies from the federal or state government to chip in and do some useful work for "the community" rather than have, essentially, a paid vacation? Don't get me wrong. There are MANY, in fact, I would argue, the majority of people out of work would just like to get back to work making something. I don't think that unemployment is the vacation they wanted any more than the guy floating on a raft at sea for three months is getting the weight loss program he desired.

What I am saying is let's raise the bar a bit. Start slow and start integrating these folks back into a part-time workforce, say 19 hours per week. Place them where they could do the most good. Use our recently-minted disabled throng to help out from home. (Only 1% of those declared disabled, ever see fit to be fit for work again.) Nothing in any law that I am aware of says that if you get a benefit or an "entitlement" (what actually entitles anyone to much of anything?) that it is a gift, free and clear.

In true Frank Underwood style, he said in a radio address that "like an 80 year old person who is nearing the end and is not what they were when young, Social Security is ripe for a radical change." While I am not advocating for gutting the old-age retirement benefits, or denying all unemployment claims, I am advocating that we ask for a little gratitude from those who are being helped by the largess of the government and by their employed neighbors who are working 40-60 hours per week. Many of these working-people, net-net, would probably be better off financially not working.

It is crazy, isn't it?


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