“To take an example from my field of expertise: The deal likely reduces or even eliminates funding for One-Stop career centers. These are places that host many social service agencies and have the primary mission of connecting the unemployed to the workforce. (Total elimination appeared in HR 1, and a massive cut in the Senate amendment to HR 1.) This is a huge policy decision — we have determined that we are not going to assist the unemployed at career centers. Where was the debate on this, not to mention the debates on the dozens of other effects of the deal?”
I’ve been watching the West Wing. Currently, I’m on season four, where Bartlet is running for reelection. Two senior aides, Josh and Toby, are somewhat heavyhandedly lost in a wilderness (Indiana), where they meet the everyman, symbol of everything they have lost touch with. Everyman makes 55 grand per year, and his wife brings in an extra 25. Everyman’s daughter wants to go to college -touchingly, the same college that Bartlet attended- but Everyman doesn’t know how he will pay for it. Josh and Toby have spent the entire episode snidely dismissing the plight of Everyman in his various forms, but faced with this particular incarnation, they construct a new tax law that would allow Everyman to deduct everything he spends on his daughter’s education from his tax bill.
The narrative fails to charm me, to say the least. Aaron Sorkin’s Everyman is an upper middle class heterosexual white man who believes that life should be hard, but not too hard. Josh and Toby stare deeply into his eyes, buy him a beer, and have a revival right in the hotel bar: how could they have forgotten their first love? Which, apparently, is upper middle class heterosexual white men who drink beer, just like normal folks.
I don’t think it is hyperbolic to say that the distance between Everyman and the realities of American life is one of the most toxic things in contemporary politics. The portrayal of Josh and Toby was realistic, to say the least; the senior aides to a Democratic president had lost sight of the economic plight of upper middle class heterosexual white men, and needed to be reminded to make life a little easier for them. This is the sphere of privilege in which our national debates take place.
Everyman isn’t unemployed. If he were, he’d know how to use a computer anyway. That’s why there was no debate on shutting down career centers- the field of vision of the budget makers doesn’t include anyone who uses them. You can’t be compelled to show kindness to people you don’t know exist.