Don’t let them take food off the table of the hungry

Posted Dec. 22, 2009, at 6:34 p.m.

Access to food stamps was made easier and simpler during the Bush administration. And they changed the name to the supplemental nutrition assistance program or SNAP.

In the 1990s, the conservatives in charge — under President Bill Clinton — almost eliminated access to government-funded victuals because, quite frankly, if you give low-wage people free food they’ll just eat it.

Or as The New York Times more politely put it, “the Bush administration led a campaign to erase the program’s stigma, calling food stamps ‘nutritional aid’ instead of welfare, and made it easier to apply. That bipartisan effort capped an extraordinary reversal from the 1990s, when some conservatives tried to abolish the pro-gram.”

I was curious why Bush would work to get more people access to taxpayer-financed food. It wasn’t public pressure. Millions protested him over the years and he didn’t care. Heck, you couldn’t get within a mile of his speeches if you disagreed with him and he let them haul grannies away if they snuck into his rallies wearing anti-Bush T-shirts.

But no matter how much I thought about it, I couldn’t throw a shoe and hit the real reason why Bush would care about feeding the poor with government money. Isn’t that what the right wing feels private charities are for? Even when we discuss the military men and women who qualify for SNAP, it doesn’t make sense. Why would he make food more available to the military that he and Congress packed off to war without body armor or properly outfitted Humvees.

By the way, Progressive magazine says in 2005 25,000 military men and women qualified for SNAP.

I just couldn’t figure it out until I let my cynical side take over. Actually, pick a side, they’re all cynical.

But the reality of “pull the wool over the public’s eyes” politics is that you can make Wall Street tycoons rich beyond any ordinary person’s ability to imagine, you can privatize education loans and make for-profit banks more important to a student than what they are actually supposed to be learning, and you can tie a person’s home ownership to a balloon payment that makes the Hindenburg look like a safe ride — so long as you don’t let the masses get too hungry.

A despot’s own people will let him starve people in a foreign land and everyone will continue to sleep at night. But once the ruler’s own people start starving, they’ll burn his house to the ground. Just ask Louis XVI. Starving folks in his own country went out of favor after his wife, Marie, dropped that whole “let them eat cake” insensitivity bomb. The starving masses took matters into their own hands and the well-fed lost their heads.

We have an example right here in the U.S. of people rebelling when it looked as though someone was about to take the food off their table. We call it the Civil War. Everyone knows that the South’s attempt to overthrow the federal government wasn’t about slavery. It was about the feds threatening their means of production and bringing their agrarian economy to a standstill.

So if you want to wage a war without raising the taxes, if you want to allow your buddies in the oil industry, the banking industry and the insurance industry to treat the U.S. economy like the captain’s daughter on pirate visiting day, then you had better make sure you have a plan in place to feed the masses when your debauchery destroys the economy. And that’s where we are now. Last month The New York Times reported that SNAP is “expanding at a pace of about 20,000 people a day.”

Twenty-thousand people a day!

The same article says that “nearly 12 percent of Americans receive aid.” That’s about one out of every eight or nine people in the country. And the Bangor Daily News says that one of every six Mainers is fed by SNAP.

Here’s an idea. Don’t let our full bellies stop us from insisting on a decent government. The new year is next week. Resolve to stop financing Wall Street and wars. If the bomb and bond makers get hungry, why let them eat cake.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.

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