Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
It was difficult to decide on a topic for this week, the 2nd anniversary of the beginning of Just Sayin'. There is a recent embarrassment of riches for us political wonks. Walker is still attempting his Jedi mind trick concerning the damning Rindfleisch e-mails (These are not the droids you are looking for. Move along). The House Republicans celebrated their Golden Jubilee vote to repeal the ACA. Some of the wing-nuttiest WI Assembly bills are being rejected by the state Senate. And the CPAC Presidential straw poll was won by
Vladimir Putin Rand Paul.
However, what were perhaps the most important political events of last week were two actions by Paul Ryan (R-Dickensian England) in his long-term effort to dismantle the social safety net. Nothing defines the fundamental difference between the two parties more than how we deal with those who temporarily need help. Democrats believe in providing everyone an equal opportunity for success in life. Republicans believe in the credo, "I got mine, the heck with you".
On Monday, Ryan's House Budget Committee issued a 205 page report, The War on Poverty: 50 years later. In a statement accompanying his report, Ryan stated, "Clearly, we can do better. We can rework (read:eliminate or drastically cut) these federal programs and help families in need lead lives of dignity (read: abject poverty)."
The highly biased report examined federal programs in food security, access to health care, education, housing, and social services. Of course, the wording and conclusions of the report confirmed Ryan's me-first philosophy that these programs do little good to alleviate poverty.
Although there are references to academic studies in each section, many of the researchers cited angrily claim that the report either misunderstands or misrepresents their work in order to prove the anti-government bias of its authors. And Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman dismisses Ryan's report as "a con job".
The second shot fired by Ryan in his attempt to undo the New Deal and the War on Poverty was his speech at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference. Most of Ryan's talk was standard red meat for the right wing crowd-kill Obamacare, Democrats are bad, kill Obamacare, etc.
However, out of the blue Ryan told an anecdote about a boy who didn't want a free school lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown paper bag, just like the other kids. He said that he knew that a kid with a brown paper bag lunch had someone who cared about him.
The press has made much of the fact that Ryan's story never actually happened. That is was lifted wholesale from a work of fiction, and that the context was completely different. However, that is not the disturbing thing. Just what did Ryan mean by his use of the tale? Did he mean that parents who cannot afford to pay for school lunches do not care about their kids? That love equates to money?
Or even worst, is Paul Ryan concocting a justification to kill the school lunch program? After all, Mr. Ryan led the charge on draconian cuts for SNAP. School-based nutrition programs greatly help the neediest children improve their futures. It is difficult for kids to concentrate in school with an empty stomach or nutritional deficiencies. The National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program are successful at getting children ready to learn. Despite Mr. Ryan's expressed belittlement, the $11.6 billion invested in the lunch program is money well spent.
This is not the first time that Paul Ryan has attempted to put his bizarre Randian notions into practice. Most of us read Ayn Rand in junior high and quickly dismissed her me-first philosophy as a horrible and ugly foundation for a society. However, Ryan is still a believer. In a 2005 speech Ryan stated, “the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand."
The current Republican narrative, as voiced by Paul Ryan is that people are too comfortable in poverty. That if we could only make them hungry and homeless, they would somehow magically raise themselves out of poverty and become rich.
In contrast, Democratic policies are aimed at improving the lives of people. For example, Democrats believe in making hard work pay. Simply increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would raise 4.6 million out of poverty and, incidentally, save the country $4.6 billion each year in SNAP costs. Republicans are vehemently opposed to raising the minimum wage.
Democrats are for ready access to family planning services and legal abortion procedures. It is estimated that single women head 34% of poor households. However, recent coordinated efforts by state-level Republican legislators are limiting access to family planning. These efforts will result in a quantum jump in unwanted pregnancies, leading to a a jump in single-woman households and higher poverty rates.
In order to achieve their potential, Americans need to be healthy, well nourished, and have access to higher education. Democrats promote the welfare of our citizenry with the ACA, support for SNAP, and continuation of Pell grants. Republicans, under Ryan's leadership, want to kill the ACA and replace it with nothing. They want to drastically slash the SNAP and Pell Grant programs.
The differences between the parties could not be more stark. Democrats offer hope and the opportunity to escape poverty. In contrast, Paul Ryan's vision would bring back the "good old days" of Charles Dickens' England. Widespread hunger, homelessness, and despair would be the norm in the world's richest country. That is not a reality that I, and many others, want to see for America.