The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Mike Rowe thinks ‘hard work’ shouldn’t be a conservative vs. liberal issue. But it is.

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Mike Rowe, the host of "Dirty Jobs," wishes the concept of work ethic wasn't so partisan. Good luck with that.

Rowe was responding to a fan (?) letter on Sunday about his "constant harping" and "right wing propaganda" on work ethic when he made the case that it shouldn't be political. His "harping" includes promoting a scholarship fund for technical schools and the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge, which stands for "Skill And Work Ethic Aren't Taboo."

"Everyday on the news, liberal pundits and politicians portray the wealthy as greedy, while conservative pundits and politicians portray the poor as lazy," he wrote. "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."

But as much as Rowe wishes otherwise, work ethic is political. Democrats are more likely to think people are either rich or poor because of circumstances out of their control, while Republicans are more likely to think it's because of how hard they work, according to a 2014 Pew poll.

The ways Americans feel about things like taxes and income inequality also depend largely on their political affiliation. Pew found Democrats and Republicans have almost polar-opposite opinions on solutions to poverty.

While Democrats overwhelmingly believe the poor need government aid to get a leg up, Republicans overwhelmingly believe such aide does more harm than good because it makes them too dependent on government -- something that could less-charitably be called "lazy."

And though Rowe might see his S.W.E.A.T. pledge as something everyone can agree on, it's not hard to see why people see it as conservative-leaning. Here are a few examples:

2. I believe that I am entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing more. I also understand that "happiness" and the "pursuit of happiness" are not the same thing.


5. I deplore debt, and do all I can to avoid it. I would rather live in a tent and eat beans than borrow money to pay for a lifestyle I can't afford.


11. I understand the world is not fair, and I'm OK with that. I do not resent the success of others.

There's a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality in Rowe's pledge that mirrors the type of thing you hear Republicans say on the campaign trail, like quoting the Declaration of Independence, espousing the virtues of living within your (or your country's) means, and celebrating success rather than framing it as a us-vs.-them battle of income inequality.

So while Rowe might see his his work-ethic views as non-partisan, there's a fundamental difference in how people think about work and getting out of poverty which influences how people interpret what he says.

As much as he tries to explain his programs as something outside of a political continuum, that's likely to be lost on the many who view "worker harder" as code for "stop being lazy."