Are Food Stamps Manly?

08/30/2011 03:33 pm ET | Updated Oct 29, 2011
  • Tom Matlack Venture capitalist-turned-writer; founder, The Good Men Project

If I could ask each candidate for President a single question it would be, "Do you believe you have any moral obligation to feed the hungry in this country?"

Four years ago, 27 million Americans got food stamps. As NPR reports, today that number is 46 million. It's expected to keep climbing. One in three households in the state of Alabama get assistance buying groceries.

The program comes out to $2 per meal per person. Many of those being fed are children. Forty percent of those getting assistance have a job. They just don't make enough to put food on the table.

Still, the argument goes, giving assistance to the poor even to fight starvation is enabling their poverty. They would get a job, or a better job, if the government would get the hell out of the way.

I had a spirited conversation with a service member stationed in Afghanistan not long ago. I questioned whether Osama bin Laden had actually succeeded in getting us to fight three Middle Eastern wars we cannot possibly win, costing us trillions of dollars we don't have, and thereby cratering our economy. The courageous GI told me about all the people on the ground he and his platoon had saved. His view was that the wars could be justified on purely humanitarian grounds.

"I don't doubt that you are doing amazing work," I told him. "But how about the tens of thousands of children starving to death in Africa? Why should we let them die while we expend so much effort to attempt to instill democratic institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby saving the populace from dictatorship?"

The next line of argument was about the imminent threat of terrorism on our shores. Again, I certainly thanked him for his courage and service, but asked who had been the most dangerous terrorists in America and Europe in the last year-Muslim fundamentalist from without or those born in Arizona, Norway, and England who had gone to extremes out of frustration over inequality at home?

The conversation boiled down to a pivotal discussion about the role of government -- not abroad but right here at home. "How can we say that we shouldn't feed our starving here at home if we send soldiers like you into harms way on a humanitarian mission half way around the world? Furthermore, if spending our precious capital on wars that we might not even be able to win causes more people to lose their jobs or be unable to feed their families -- is that right?"

In the end we agreed to disagree. I can certainly respect that if your life is on the line, you really don't have the wiggle room to think too much about whether the justification is valid. You have to do what you are told. That's the patriotic thing to do.

But again, if I had one question for all the candidates for president, including President Obama, it would simply be whether or not we have a moral obligation to feed our own hungry? Is it more manly to fight wars or feed children?

The shocking thing to me is that public sentiment -- and a majority of the current crop of would be national leaders -- seem to believe that government is bad, budgets need to be cut, and that caring for our own in event the most basic way is not manly. It's enabling poor. As if they had a choice in the matter.


From: The Good Men Project

Photo with permission by: i5a / Flickr