Mike Rowe’s successful Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs gained a following thanks to being exciting, vivid television: He joined workers as they wrestled alligators, cleaned septic tanks, and rounded up yaks on a ranch in Montana. But it also became something of a tribute to America’s blue-collar work ethic, and as Rowe finishes his second season with a new show on CNN, some can’t help but take exception to his hard-working creed.
Rowe was recently moved to make the case for his message after getting a viewer e-mail: “Craig P.” was upset with Rowe’s constant “harping on the ‘work ethic’” and accused the Somebody’s Gotta Do It host of maligning the working class.
Rowe’s response, a rousing defense of his worldview and indictment of work-averse American culture, has now been shared more than 90,000 times.
“Hey Mike … Just because someone’s poor doesn’t mean they’re lazy. The unemployed want to work!” Craig P. wrote. “Rather than accusing people of not having a work-ethic, why not drop the right-wing propaganda and help them develop one?”
Rowe responded forcefully — but politely — refuting Craig P.’s diatribe point by point.
First, Rowe addressed the accusation of “right-wing propaganda” — both sides of the political spectrum, he says, aren’t taking the issue seriously:
For the record, I don’t believe all poor people are lazy, any more than I believe all rich people are greedy. But I can understand why so many do.
Everyday on the news, liberal pundits and politicians portray the wealthy as greedy, while conservative pundits and politicians portray the poor as lazy. Democrats have become so good at denouncing greed, Republicans now defend it. And Republicans are so good at condemning laziness, Democrats are now denying it even exists. It’s a never ending dance that gets more contorted by the day.
President Obama, Fox News, John Stewart, and the rest, he said, spar for political advantage, but miss the point. “This is a national crisis,” he wrote. “We’re churning out a generation of poorly educated people with no skill, no ambition, no guidance, and no realistic expectations of what it means to go to work.”
As to Craig P.’s claim that “people want to work” but the unemployed simply can’t find jobs? Rowe had an answer to that, too.
“In my travels, I’ve met a lot of hard-working individuals, and I’ve been singing their praises for the last 12 years. But I’ve seen nothing that would lead me to agree with your generalization,” Rowe wrote. “From what I’ve seen of the species, and what I know of myself, most people — given the choice — would prefer NOT to work. In fact, on Dirty Jobs, I saw Help Wanted signs in every state, even at the height of the recession.” (Indeed, the share of Americans working or looking for jobs is at the lowest it’s been in decades, even as the number of job openings reaches historic highs.)
That certainly sounds like the conservative critique of modern America. Rowe also provides what sounds like a conservative, American solution:
I don’t focus on groups. I focus on individuals who are eager to do whatever it takes to get started. People willing to retool, retrain, and relocate. That doesn’t mean I have no empathy for those less motivated. It just means I’m more inclined to subsidize the cost of training for those who are.
He concluded: “That shouldn’t be a partisan position, but if it is, I guess I’ll just have to live with it.”
In the meantime, Rowe’s walking the walk: His foundation, the work of which Craig P. seemed to find either pointless or condescending, “promotes hard work and supports the skilled trades in a variety of areas.” According to its website, the foundation awards “scholarships to men and women who have demonstrated an interest in and an aptitude for mastering a specific trade.”
Rowe’s full post:
— Mark Antonio Wright is an intern at National Review.