In this morning’s (Sunday) NYT, the following article runs–
Full of pathos appeals, coupled with some interesting statistics, the article tracks increasing use of food stamps across the country. In and of itself, that’s not terribly surprising. In a difficult economy, people need help buying food.
What I found surprising and worth mulling over are a couple of facts–
1. Growth in food stamp use is about the same in the 600 counties where it’s historically been highest, and the 600 counties where it’s historically been lowest. That is, use of foodstamps is increasing rapidly in places where it hasn’t before. The article isn’t terribly precise about this next point, but suggests a couple of times that the second batch of counties tend to more conservative than the first, which means that reliance on government support is (again) penetrating into places where conservative dogma says it shouldn’t.
2. It’s not just poor people who are using food stamps. The article makes very clear that working people and families at many levels of the economic hierarchy need support–job losses, housing bust, medical expenses, etc, are all contributing to hunger. At the very least, the data challenges the conservative wisdom that only lazy people rely on government support. Of course, anybody who’s paid a lick of attention for the last 30 years has known that’s crap, a fabrication of the Reagan campaign in order to fan poor white people’s indignation, while at the same time keeping them from doing much to help themselves.
3. Notable are a couple of interviews with self-identified conservatives who are accepting government support for (what sounds like) the first time, although depending on how you define “government support,” you could argue that they’ve been accepting it their entire lives. It’s good to see at least one of the interviewees acknowledge that food stamps aren’t just for poor, lazy people. One of them says something like, “These are people I could be having lunch with.” The classism of that aside, at least she recognizes something of value. Somebody makes the point that poor people are often just as resistant to government aid as others, which was helpful to see. But the one that really gets me is the guy who, with one hand reaches out to grab the money, and with the other slaps people who take it. Hypocrite. And the guy from the Heritage Foundation who (shockingly) pulls out the example of the person who lives in an expensive home and drives a Mercedez, and generalizes from her to the entire world.
If one person abusing a system were enough to call for the destruction of the system, then the Bush administration would be responsible for having smoked the Constitution; Blackwater’s rapes and murders in Iraq would be enough to destroy the US military. And on and on. The double-standard here is so Orwellian that it’s hard to address (thank you, John Birch, for legitimizing this kind of political discourse).
At the end of the day, what this article demonstrates is that everything conservatives say about government aid is wrong. The system isn’t fraught with people abusing it–that’s nothing but a lie. The system doesn’t enable laziness–it feeds working people who can’t feed themselves because our pro-corporate, anti-worker economic policies have utterly failed them. Self-righteousness shouldn’t dictate accepting hunger as a condition of living in the wealthiest nation in the world. And conservatives who scream bloody murder about government support at the same time they accept it need to think a little harder about what they’re screaming. I won’t argue, as some others do, that they should refuse to accept help. It’s not the government’s job to decide who’s worthy of care based on how they exercise their First Amendment rights. It is, however, deeply troubling that some of these folks really seem not to understand the problem here–that if they win their arguments at Tea Parties, the very support they rely on for survival will go away.