It's hard to imagine conservative political ideology becoming so twisted that one of its standard bearers would step up to a podium and assert poor children are better off going hungry.
Yet when Paul Ryan addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week he did just that, bashing progressives for supporting federally funded school lunch programs. He accused those of us uncomfortable with children going hungry of offering them "a full belly and an empty soul."
In service of this deeply troubling belief, he told a story about a boy getting a federally funded school lunch who asked for it in a brown paper bag like his classmates, because that -- according to Ryan -- meant they had parents who cared about them.
Paul Ryan's politics dictate that it's better for a child to go hungry than get help. Paul Ryan's politics dictate that parents who rely on public assistance don't care about their children. Paul Ryan's politics dictate that those who are down on their luck -- even children -- are soulless, not the Wall Street bankers who crashed our nation's economy and continue to crush the American middle class, necessitating such assistance in the first place.
It speaks volumes that Ryan's CPAC story wasn't even true. The politician who was himself something of a serial fibber on his failed 2012 campaign attributed this brown bag story to a political appointee of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Walker's appointee testified before Congress last year that she met the boy in the story, which was a lie. She yanked the story out of a book.
Here we have the quintessential conservative talking point: It pushes shameful policy, it conveys utter disdain for Americans who find themselves in need of help, and it's based on a lie.
We don't have to dig too deeply to figure out why Ryan would tell such a story at CPAC -- the conference intended to fire up the ultra-conservative base. He needs the support of his ground troops for a proposed 2014 House budget that cuts billions from federal programs that fight childhood hunger. That includes a proposed budget cut of $122 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, including $57 billion specifically allocated for child nutrition.
It was a red meat speech from the leader of a political movement hell bent on ensuring nothing's left on the bones for the poor and middle class in our country.
And for anyone who thinks these politicians will blink when it comes time to actually dump children from these nutrition programs, Ryan and his colleagues offer this: Try us.
Last year, their federal sequester eliminated 750,000 mothers and children from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program that provides baby formula for infants and food for children. And the latest reauthorization of school meals only increased funding for school meals by six cents, which isn't enough to keep pace with rising food costs and new requirements. Even worse, there was no increase for meals given to children in Head Start and child care programs.
I don't need statistics to tell me how perverse Ryan's politics of attacking children and their parents are. I know what it's like to live on the margins in this country. As a single mother making far too little as a home care provider, I once relied on federal assistance programs to help feed my children.
And the members of my union, AFSCME, work with children every day -- in schools, in daycares, in county and state programs. We see the effects of childhood hunger. We don't see children sent to school by parents who don't care about them. Unlike Ryan, we don't obsess about cutting government at all costs even if it means children going hungry. We figure out how to make government work for everybody, not just the wealthy few.
We see our own children if we've ever relied on help to feed them. If we've been fortunate to never need such help, we see -- and this would really be a stretch for politicians like Ryan -- our neighbor's children and act not out of our own self-interest, but out of the interest of the most vulnerable in our community.
We see that a program that ensures children have full bellies is in fact the heart and soul of America on full display. To see otherwise is perverted politics. To see otherwise is soulless.
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