Thursday, March 6, 2014

Starving a child does not feed its soul

Paul Ryan is not a nice man. Let's just be clear about that before we begin.

Today at CPAC, Ryan took on one of the hard right's favorite targets: free lunches for kids. For some reason, providing lunches to poor school kids really sets off some politicians. They famously proclaim that kids should learn that there are no free lunches! With no regard for the fact that for kids, there really should be free lunches. I sure never paid for my own lunch when I was in grade school. Did you? Some conservatives seem to find it really, really offensive that they are paying for poor kids to eat.

So Ryan told this story that he says he heard from a member of Scott Walker's cabinet. (Don't get me started on the quality of the people Scott Walker surrounds himself with.)

“This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my friend Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch – one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.
“That’s what the Left just doesn’t understand.”
There are so many problems to identify in this one tiny story. First, I seriously doubt the origins of the story, because these sorts of anecdotes are always told second or third hand. Second, I doubt the truth of the story, as these sorts of anecdotes that make their way into speeches are almost never really true. Sure enough, Wonkette has uncovered a possible origin for the story. If the story Ryan told actually came from the book Wonkette suggests, boy howdy did either Eloise Anderson or Paul Ryan seriously bastardize the story in a way that utterly missed the point of the original story.

In the alternate story, the boy doesn't have anyone to care for him. A woman who knows the boy offers to take care of his lunches each day. She suggests that she can either buy him a lunch card or take him grocery shopping weekly to pick out foods and then get a packed lunch to him every day. When offered that option, the boy asked if that packed lunch could be in a brown paper bag because in his child mind, he has decided that kids who bring lunch to school in a brown paper bag have someone at home who cares about him/her. This poor boy doesn't have any such person. By asking for his free lunch to be packaged in a brown paper bag, he was asking to have tangible evidence that someone cares about him.

Paul Ryan undoubtedly didn't do any kind of research into the veracity of this story. He probably didn't stop to think about it at all. He probably heard Anderson tell this story over cocktails some evening and it resonated with his pre-set world view. "See?!," he thought, "Kids don't want free lunches! They want parents who will love them enough to pay for their food! So we should stop providing free lunches because it's bad for kids' souls!"

Here's what Paul Ryan doesn't get. No kid who doesn't have regular access to lunch is going to turn down free lunch. Kids would rather be not hungry than hungry. I know that's hard to understand, but if he sat down and thought about it for a while, he'd probably get it. Kids would rather know that adults will care for them, will not let them fall through the cracks, will step in where their own parents are struggling. Any of that would be much better than knowing that society is ok with them going hungry. Yes, they want parents who will love them, but they're not going on hunger strikes until they get that. Oh, and, duh, parents needing help to pay for lunch does not equate to parents not loving their kids. It quite often simply equates to parents working their buts off at low-paying jobs where incomes have not kept pace with cost of living increases. (Seriously, when was the last time Paul Ryan went into a grocery story for anything other than a photo op?)

It boggles the mind that Ryan somehow sees it as bad for kids' souls to provide them food. How is denying them food somehow feeding their souls? What sort of twisted religion does he follow that says it is better for a child's soul to let that child go hungry than to show that child there are compassionate adults in his society who won't let him go hungry?

The truth is that the Paul Ryans of the world don't want to pay for other people. They don't want to help out kids who have nothing because it should be the responsibility of someone else. Deep down in places he doesn't talk about at parties, this Ayn Rand lover probably thinks it's just as well for the world if the people who can't afford to pay their own way die off. And somehow, because he so badly doesn't want to take on responsibility for anyone other than his own, he has convinced himself it's actually a kindness not to do so.

Paul Ryan is wrong. Dead wrong. Only a soulless person would deny food to kids. Feeding their bellies IS feeding their souls.


BellsforStacy said...

By saying the state is soulless for not feeding kids, aren't you sort of admitting that the parents are soulless for not feeding their kids?

S said...

Well, of course. Obviously, it's soulless to make your kid an orphan (as the kid in the story is). And obviously, a single mother who makes $30,000 a year is soulless for accepting help in feeding her kids lunch so she can set the heat to a balmy 66 in the winter rather than having to leave it at 62 all day long.

That's the problem with both Ryan's and your line of thinking: thinking that parents are just soulless jerks who are choosing not to feed their kids instead of recognizing the reality that an awful lot of people in this country live in poverty, or hover near that line. Anyone who grocery shops ought to know how much food prices have increased in the last decade, all while incomes have remained stagnant (or even decreased). And all while Ryan and his ilk have fought steadily against any attempt to increase minimum wages (never mind that Washington state, the state with the highest min wage in the nation has seen a boost to its economy from raising that wage).

The vast majority of kids who eat free lunches don't have parents who are just choosing not to feed them; they have parents who do not have enough money to go around.

BellsforStacy said...

Let's not loop me in with Ryan's way of thinking. I'm not a big fan.

But I do have issue with this whole idea that mom is working but then she doesn't have money to feed the kids and then it's the schools job to feed them. It's just weird. When things get tight, you don't generally cut out food. You miss a mortgage payment, you miss a car payment, but you don't generally cut out food. Should we have these programs? I don't know, I'm not that smart. But I do know that if it came down to it, I would not ever use my money to pay for anything else over my kids food.

And I didn't originally use the term soulless. If you're going to use it, why is the state a soulless meanie for not paying for lunch when mom can't do it either? I mean if money is tight for the state, what are they supposed to do?

There are people that need help. My very best friend went on food stamps for a time to help feed her son. She was a single mom putting herself thorugh school. It was a good thing for her.

I just think that ify ou looked at the vast majority of the kids on free lunch, it's because they have absentee parents who have real problems (drugs, addiction, jail time, etc). Responsible parents, even the less fortunate, take advantage of government programs (food stamps) to feed their kids.

And really I'm okay with free lunch, or assisted lunch. But Texas is now offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. And take home meals for the weekends. That's not cool. And several of these kids are homeless. There needs to be a different solution because A) these kids shouldn't be homeless they should be in foster care (but that's a whole other mess) B) the school system is spending way too much time on these sorts of social issues and not enough on educating and it's burning the teachers and administrators out.

Rambled a little.

Bobby Huggins said...


Often times, people have to make choices that are harder than you think. "Do I pay for groceries for me and my kids now, or do I pay for gas so I can cook that food and heat my home? What about money for car insurance or a bus pass so I can make it to work and keep earning income?" There are many things that are as just as necessary as food, in the long run.

I would suggest playing the online game SPENT ( for some insight into what making these kinds of decisions is actually like.

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