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Conservatives out of step

Published 9:38am Thursday, March 13, 2014

Did you ever think you’d see the day when decrying low-income kids who get free school lunches would become a political battle cry, coupled with the suggestion that parents who sign up their kids for free lunches love them less than parents who send their children to school with brown bagged bologna sandwiches?

The real bologna is actually in conservatives’ “No free school lunches!” battle cry, and in what turned out to be a bogus example Rep. Paul Ryan used in his speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference to take the argument to a new (low) level. He suggested needy parents of poor children on free school lunches don’t care about their children.

The school lunch program is merely the latest example of 21st century conservatives distancing themselves from a “given” strongly supported by b-o-t-h political parties (for instance, food stamps, supported by Richard Nixon, among others). Ryan told the proven-to-be-fictitious story of a child who didn’t want a free lunch but a brown bag lunch “because he knew a kid with a brown bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”

In fact, Ryan apparently doesn’t understand the program.

The 1946 Richard B. Russell National School Act, signed by President Harry Truman, had two specific policy goals: to provide food to poor school-age children while helping prop up food prices by putting farm surpluses to use. Studies have shown that hungry kids are less able to concentrate and learn. The program isn’t perfect: Reports suggest it doesn’t always work well, is not always available in some older schools, and there isn’t always enough funding so some kids are indeed hungry in school.

The lunch program was never a case of just one party saying, “Let’s get involved in providing needy kids free lunches because we have the power to do it, and we need to show we have that power to make them dependent.” And it was never a case of parents saying, “Since we don’t love our kids, we won’t make a bologna sandwich with our loving hands and shove it and a bag of Doritos in a brown bag and let them take it to school. Let them suffer and eat that free school lunch!”

If those sound like silly and unfair characterizations, they are no more silly or unfair than Ryan’s suggestion that poor parents who’ve signed their kids up for free school lunches are lousy and unfeeling parents. But one could argue those who demonize and diss needy children and parents would make lousy leaders and are seemingly unfeeling human beings — even though they will insist otherwise.

Mr. Ryan apparently has not spent much time talking to needy kids or their parents. They don’t show up at fundraisers.

Frederick Douglass said: “It’s easier to build strong children then to repair broken men.” The compassion lever seems broken on some of today’s conservatives who are seemingly in a frenzied race to prove themselves to be the least compassionate. Precisely what is Ryan’s alternative? Deny a child from a family that may be financially hurting a free lunch? Nelson Mandela correctly noted: “There can be no keener revelation of a society soul than the way it treats its children.”

Fortunately, the American mainstream isn’t ready to deny innocent kids free lunches or denigrate parents who sign up for free lunches so their child can compete with better-off kids at school. The operative word here is “mainstream.” More and more 21st century conservatives seem to be moving away from America’s mainstream, and polls confirm they aren’t in step with the bulk of millennial voters.

Does Mr. Ryan really feel that way about poor parents? Or was he using kids who get free school lunches as an ideological tool to pander to his conservative audience and political best buds?

He and those who seemingly seek political gain by dissing parents whose kids get free school lunches might ponder a quote from another major thinker, Harry Potter’s Professor Dumbledore: “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”


Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at

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  • mickakers

    deist; As a PS: A Man or Woman’s word should be considered sacred, not only considered, but should be!!!

    (Report comment)

  • mickakers

    deist; In actuality, the man and woman are married by each other by their sacred commitment. The Preacher, Priest or Civil Servant only act as witnesses which is required by law for the marriage to be legal.

    (Report comment)

  • deist

    Mr. akers, marriage is a ” sacramental union between a man and woman with the primary purpose of the procreation of children in order to ensure the continued existence of the human race. “, if that is what YOU believe. It is not however law. One does not have to get married by a preacher, nor get married in church. If two people want to live together and get the benefits of a married couple, how in the world does that hurt or affect you in any way. I will help you, it will not. Please believe as you wish, but do nopt presuppose you speak for all.

    (Report comment)

  • mickakers

    keta; As a PS: I have friends that are Heterosexual, Bisexual and Homosexual. I have respect for all of them. In particular, for the benefit of my Homosexual friends and to be fair, I must throw in fornication, which is also a violation of moral integrity committed by many of my Heterosexual friends. My Bisexual friends? God help em’, they really are in a tough situation when it comes to free reign of sexual appetites versus moral integrity.

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  • mickakers

    keta; Marriage is a sacramental union between a man and woman with the primary purpose of the procreation of children in order to ensure the continued existence of the human race. So called Same Sex Marriage cannot fulfill this purpose or obligation. I have nothing against “gays” and there is nothing inferior about them, but there are limits to what they can and cannot do when it comes to moral integrity. Two of my best friends were homosexual, both died of Aids.

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  • mikehaney

    Free school lunches leave the parents enough food stamps to trade in for drugs.
    And thank goodness the parade committee is saying no. So far.

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  • keta

    To the question “Does Mr. Ryan really feel that way about poor parents?” the answer is “Sure.” Perhaps he’d like to drug test all the kids who get free and reduced price lunches – he and his colleagues love that stuff. Mick, you’re a constant disappointment. Same sex marriage isn’t ludicrous unless you’re someone who believes that gays themselves, and their need to honor their commitment with a legal ceremony, are ludicrous. They were born that way, Mick. Morals don’t enter into it. No need to punish them for being gay, no need to punish poor kids for being poor.

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  • mickakers

    Joe Gandelman; An admirable and thought provoking article. My compliments. Conservatives are not the only ones out of step. Liberals are also out of step in endorsing the killing of the unborn (abortion) and same sex marriage (how ludicrous). I am afraid Joe, our society is lacking when it comes to moral stability. As a countries or even an empires morals go, so goes the country or empire. This is vividly demonstrated by history.

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