Republican glee at suffering poor terrible to behold
The monstrous farm Bill the House of Representatives passed last week shows its mean-spiritedness
House Speaker John Boehner was among House leaders who worked late last week to help pass the monstrous farm bill. Photograph: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times
Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party in the United States. We’ve gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We’ve even gone beyond selfishness and special interests. At this point we’re talking about a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.
The occasion for these observations is, as you may have guessed, the monstrous farm Bill the House of Representatives passed last week.
For decades, farm Bills have had two major pieces. One piece offers subsidies to farmers, the other offers nutritional aid to Americans in distress, mainly in the form of food stamps (these days officially known as the supplemental nutrition assistance programme, or Snap).
Long ago, when subsidies helped many poor farmers, you could defend the whole package as a form of support for those in need. Over the years, however, the two pieces diverged. Farm subsidies became a fraud-ridden programme that mainly benefits corporations and wealthy individuals. Meanwhile, food stamps became a crucial part of the social safety net. So House Republicans voted to maintain farm subsidies – at a higher level than either the Senate or the White House proposed – while eliminating food stamps from the Bill.
To fully appreciate what just went down, listen to the rhetoric conservatives often use to justify eliminating safety-net programmes. It goes something like this: “You’re personally free to help the poor. But the government has no right to take people’s money” – frequently, at this point, they add the words “at the point of a gun” – “and force them to give it to the poor.”
It is, however, apparently perfectly okay to take people’s money at the point of a gun and force them to give it to agribusinesses and the wealthy.
Now, some enemies of food stamps don’t quote libertarian philosophy: they quote the Bible instead. Republican Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, for example, cited the New Testament: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Sure enough, it turns out that Fincher has personally received millions in farm subsidies. Given this awesome double standard – I don’t think the word “hypocrisy” does it justice – it seems almost anticlimactic to talk about facts and figures. But I guess we must.
So: food stamp usage has indeed soared in recent years, with the percentage of the population receiving stamps rising from 8.7 in 2007 to 15.2 in the most recent data. There is no mystery here. Snap is supposed to help families in distress, and lately a lot of families have been in distress.