Jonah Goldberg

"Should we let Americans fall off a cliff or should we help them? There shouldn't be a debate as to where the money comes from. I mean, if your brother or your sister needed something, you wouldn't say, 'When are you going to pay me back?'"

That's Jim Chukalas a car-parts manager who has been unemployed for nearly two years. He's received unemployment benefits for 79 weeks and desperately wants those benefits extended again. He feels so strongly about it, he agreed to be one of the White House's human props on Monday.

"It's time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics," President Obama proclaimed with Chukalas at his side. "It's time to do what is right, not for the next election but for the middle class."

While it's hardly new for Obama to claim that anyone who holds a position different from his own is merely playing partisan politics -- that's his default response to all disagreements -- it's at least amusing to hear him suggest that budget balancing is now a sign of pandering to popular sentiments.

Obama had signed an earlier extension of unemployment benefits in November, when the economy was worse. He later bragged that it was "fiscally responsible" and consistent with the "pay-as-you-go" legislation he championed and signed, which says, in Obama's words, "Congress can only spend a dollar if it saves a dollar elsewhere."

Officially, the Republicans do not oppose extending unemployment benefits yet again. Rather, they merely want to observe the rules Obama championed last fall. In other words, Democrats should pay for the spending by finding cuts elsewhere in the budget. What is "fiscally responsible" when Obama is for it, is rank partisanship when he's against it.

But enough with the point scoring, I want to get back to Mr. Chukalas, a father of two and a diligent, decent man for all I know. Again, he says, "If your brother or your sister needed something, you wouldn't say, 'When are you going to pay me back?'"

I don't know about the Chukalas clan, but in my family and my wife's family, and in the families of most people I know, asking, "When are you going to pay me back?" isn't so unimaginable. Sure, in a crisis, kin come to the rescue if they can. But they also usually expect to be repaid once everyone is back on their feet. Does Chukalas have any intention of paying taxpayers back once he gets a job?


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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