A Profile in Cowardice

Res ipsa loquitur is a Latin term meaning essentially that something is so self evident that a situation speaks for itself. That Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s plan to impose a drug test requirement on people who apply for unemployment compensation or food assistance is cruel and mean spirited, is true with no substantive discussion needed. It is cruel and mean spirited by the notion of res ipsa loquitur.

Walker designed his plan to be mean spirited, but lacks the guts to say that.

To qualify for unemployment compensation, a worker who has lost a job must not have done anything in the workplace that the employer can establish was misconduct. If an employer shows that a worker was fired for misconduct, the former employee is ineligible to receive unemployment compensation. Being fired because a drug addiction rendered an employee unfit to work would be enough to deny that employee unemployment compensation.

Walker has made a political decision—that his public stance will be enhanced by appearing to punish unemployed people by shaming them with a drug test requirement. He also used a bogus rationale—that anyone testing positive for drug use will then receive drug counseling to help them find a new job. People who qualify for unemployment compensation lost their jobs because an employer couldn’t maintain the business they run satisfactorily. That shortcoming is not the fault of a worker and should not be presumptive of a worker possessing a disabling drug addiction.

I would feel better if Walker had the honesty to tell the truth—that he is taking a cheap shot at people, when they are down, to gain favor with voters who are generally angry and thus enjoy seeing someone else hit with a bucket of metaphorical crap. At least if Walker was honest, one could respect the courage of his honesty. Instead, Walker hides behind a bogus motive. He knows, by the preponderance of mean spiritedness that now permeates Wisconsin, he is safe from retaliation for this un-Christian-like behavior.

How can you respect a governor who still acts like a nasty little child— a role he seems to relish?

The internationally respected New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristoff has written about this genre of meanness in a story about a friend he grew up with in a small, Oregon town. This friend recently died at age 54 of multiple-organ failure—largely due to circumstances beyond his friend’s control. These circumstances included a poor economy, unemployment and inaccessible healthcare. In a column titled “Where’s the Empathy?“, Kristoff wrote of acerbic condescension, by some observers, to his boyhood friend’s suffering and concluded that there was an empathy gap for many Americans. The empathy gap is nourished by the self-delusion that many people who are suffering simply do not avail themselves of resources to meet their health needs or receive inadequate nutrition due to laziness or a desire to lead cushy lives without working. This is a mean-spirited view of such unfortunate circumstances. Our better selves should help people when they are down, not spit on them.

I would modify Kristoff’s term “empathy gap,” to “empathy void.” Scott Walker has an empathy void—made worse by his cowardice in defending it with bogus mumbo jumbo.

At least in A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s Col. Jessup had the guts to say “You’re Goddamn right I ordered the Code Red.” Walker lacks the guts to be that honest. Rather than saying that he wants drug testing of unemployed people for the purpose of shaming them, when they are down, and thereby appealing to the basest instincts of mean spirited voters, he would rather have us all believe that drug testing the unemployed is a necessary and helpful exercise.