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COMMENTARY

A mid-summer political injustice

 Posted: 2:00 AM July 23, 2013

Watching and listening to the Republican Party of late is not only anger-provoking but profoundly disheartening.

The GOP has indeed been transformed, but into what? Republicans are consumed by a rigid ideology and a persistent and debilitating mean-spiritedness that is paralyzing their ability to compromise and therefore to govern. They are not simply a cohort of grumpy men and women gone anachronistic. They are a party that is doing incalculable damage to our nation with a studied righteousness that is appalling, claiming Pyrrhic victories that have consistently put doctrine before the common good.

A case in point is the recent passage of the farm bill, legislation that has been ratified with bipartisan support since 1973. But not this year.

The Republican dominated House, in all its wisdom, increased the already extraordinary largesse to Big Agriculture ($195.6 billion over 10 years) while eliminating the food stamp program (aka the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) from the legislation. The farm bill, sans food stamps, passed the House with a 216-208 vote.

Know that SNAP is an essential part of our social safety net and is aimed at those who experience "food insecurity." The unspoken truth is that some 48 million Americans can't afford sufficient food. The research indicates, overwhelmingly, that recipients of food stamps are in genuine need, especially during what has been called the Great Recession, wherein millions of Americans are unemployed or underemployed.

SNAP is considered to be one of the most efficient and efficacious anti-poverty programs currently in use, especially for children living in extreme poverty. Imagine going to school and attempting to concentrate while distracted by hunger and a rising sense of shame or even panic?

Or as a parent, confronting each day burdened with the stark reality that your children are hungry while simultaneously feeling the existential threat of being without work, haunted by the fact that every day will be defined by uncertainty. It's a life lived on the edge of a precipice. Food stamps address that harrowing reality.

Contrary to cultivated stereotypes, recipients of food stamps can buy only food, not pet food, heated food, alcohol, tobacco or toiletries. They cannot have more that $2,000 in assets, unless disabled or a senior. They must be a U.S. citizen or a legal alien. The majority are not people of color. And SNAP is not plagued by rampant abuse or fraud.

And still the House Republicans cut the program. Why? Representative Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., who, it's been reported, has received millions in farm subsidies, turned to the New Testament for his rationale: "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."

And there it is, in one sentence, the GOP's most mendacious and hypocritical rationale, one that pervades their thinking and their talking points. Accuse the poor of choosing not to work while simultaneously refusing to focus on jobs (a nationwide, New Deal WPA?). Accuse those desperately looking for jobs that don't exist of being the "takers" or, in the words of Mitt Romney, part of the now infamous "47 percent." Accuse the least among us as seeking a "redistribution of wealth" and being unwilling to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Besides, goes the high-minded monologue, regarding food stamps, "we can't afford it."

Clearly, Republicans view SNAP as a hammock and not a safety net, and it's become their mission to truncate it into non-existence. It's a callous, mean-spirited and ideologically driven effort, one that discounts what Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently said: "It's all right to tell a man to lift himself up by his own bootstraps; but it's a cruel jest to say (this) to a bootless man"¦"

Meanwhile, because of Congress' reflexive and at times irrational response to 9/11, we have spent $8 trillion on the military and Homeland Security, amounting to $70,000 per American, according to the research group Priorities Project. Nicholas D. Kristof, writing in the New York Times, points out that since 2005, "terrorism has taken an average of 23 American lives annually, mostly overseas — and the number has been falling. More Americans die of falling televisions and other appliances than from terrorism." He goes on to point out that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "more than 30,000 people die annually from firearms injuries."

Think of it: $8 trillion over the last 8 years. And yet, the House Republicans, citing the righteous rubric of fiscal responsibility, without hesitation, eliminated SNAP. It's a moral failing of astonishing proportions, outrageous and fundamentally despicable, ultimately defying all explanation (not unlike what occurred in the aftermath of Sandy Hook when Congress chose not to act on gun control).

Chris Honoré lives in Ashland.


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