Category Archives: This is Who They Are

Wingnut Week In Review: If Ebola Doesn’t Kill You, Wingnuttery Will

Republicans finally have something to run on: fear. This week, it’s fear of Ebola. Of course, right-wing fear-mongers always leave out how conservatism made the Ebola crisis worse.

Fox News contributor Stacey Dash called for the federal government to establish “special centers for Ebola in each state.” Dash must have forgotten that the government could just use those empty “FEMA camps.”


Dash criticized the Obama administration, saying “We need a surgeon general. We need a pinpoint person.” She’s right. We could use a Surgeon General right now. America could benefit from an “explainer in chief” to educate people, and cut though some of the hysteria, as Dr. C. Everett Coop did in the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. However, Dash left out that Republicans are the reason America doesn’t have a surgeon general.

President Obama nominated Dr. Vivek Murthy nearly a year ago. But Dr. Murthy’s nomination has been held up by right-wingers, the NRA, and red-state Democrats, because of his support for an assault weapons ban, and for this 2012 tweet:

Dr. Murthy may have a point. According to the National Safety Council, you’ve got about a 1 in 356 chance of dying as a result of gun violence. Those odds are likely to get worse, because gun deaths are set to exceed traffic fatalities as one of America’s leading causes of non-medical deaths by 2015.

Your chances of dying from Ebola are roughly … zero.


But we don’t have a surgeon general to tell us that, thanks to the gun-loving wingnut brigade. Meanwhile, wingnuts are squawking for an “Ebola Czar,” — after suggesting that the use of “czars” was turning us into Russia — and then attack the president for appointing one.


Something else we don’t have are national public health institutions sufficiently funded to handle crises like Ebola. Right-wing budget slashing cut the Center for Disease Control’s emergency preparedness budget nearly in half. The CDC’s discretionary funding was cut by $585 million between 2010 and 2014. Funding for public health preparedness and response efforts were cut by $1 billion between 2002 and 2013, resulting in about 45,700 job losses at the state and local level — at a time when vaccine-preventable diseases like Ebola are a growing threat.


Conservatives like Erick Erickson can claim that “fat lesbians got all the Ebola dollars,”, but it was wingnuttery that got us into this mess. More the same wingnuttery isn’t going to get us out of it:

Here’s the rest of the worst in wingnuttia this week:

Wingnut Week In Review: Plane Paranoid

Thank heaven for American wingnuts’ short attention span. The apparent shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the Ukraine gave us a respite from the usual sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic rantings. A brief one, but a respite nonetheless.

Not to worry, they’ll soon get back to screaming and spitting at busloads of frightened children. In the meantime, here’s the best of the rest in wingnuttia this week.



Meet The Genocidal Dead Colonialist The GOP Wants to Make A Citizen

Republicans can’t pass immigration reform, but they can take time out from obstructing anything that might remotely do the economy some good, to confer citizenship on a genocidal colonialist who’s been dead for over two hundred years.

Bernardo de Galvez.jpgBernardo de Galvez“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Meet Bernardo de Galvez y Madrid. Never heard of him? He’s a Spanish military leader who was — among other things — the colonial governor of Louisiana and Cuba. He is credited with helping the original thirteen American colonies gain independence from the British. The city of Galveston, Texas, is named for him, and there are statues of him in Washington, DC, Florida, and Texas. A famous “haunted portrait” of de Galvez hangs in the Hotel Galvez, in Galveston.

He’s been dead for more than 200 years, but he’s back in the news thanks to Republican efforts to make Galvez — who’s been resting in peace in San Fernando, Mexico — an honorary citizen. Late Friday evening, Sen. Marco Rubio (R, Texas) introduced S.J. 38, a joint resolution conferring honorary citizenship upon Galvez. Rep. Jeff Miller (R, Florida) introduced the House version in January.

Whether its fair to measure historical figures by modern standards is debatable, but it’s hard to overlook Galvez’s part in the genocide of Native American’s who happened to live on land that Europeans — convinced of their cultural and racial superiority — claimed as theirs by “divine right.” (Yes, genocide. Try visiting the National Museum of the American Indian, and reading about the countless numbers who died during massacres and forced migrations, without feeling like you’re visiting a holocaust museum.)

Galvez was famous for his departure from conventional “Indian policy” of the time. Prior to Galvez, Spanish policy had always been to deny arms to Native Americans in the New World. With relatively few troops under his command, and outnumbered by the Apaches and Comanches who historically warred with each other, Galvez reversed the old Spanish policy, and actively provided arms to the Native American tribes.

Before anyone takes him for an early gun-rights advocate, or the NRA bestows honorary membership upon him, there was a method to Galvez’s madness. Then Viceroy of New Spain Bernardo de Galvez spelled it out when he advised Spain to ally with the Comanches against the Apaches. It was not because he had any great love of the Comanches. “The vanquishment of the heathen consists in obliging them to destroy one another,” Galvez cynically wrote in his 1786 “Instructions.”

Even then, it was nothing new. Galvez’s cold-blooded strategizing was right out of the “Divide and Conquer” chapter the old imperialist handbook. The Romans used it when they took over Britain, and the British applied it in India. It worked like a charm in Africa, where Germany placed the already dominant Tutsi minority in positions of power. Belgium finished the job by rearranging the Tutsi and Hutu groups according to artificial “racial” categories instead of occupation, and setting up the socioeconomic conflict that played a major role in the Rwandan genocide,

So, why are Republicans trying to make a dead guy who’s been buried in Mexico for 200 years an honorary citizen, while blocking immigration reforms that might offer a path to actual citizenship for undocumented immigrants? Well, Bernardo de Galvez does occasionally turn up on list of “Latino Contributions to American History,” despite being from Spain, and therefore Hispanic and not Latino.

Maybe Republicans are too afraid of the right-wing of their party to stand up for immigration reform. Maybe Republicans are betting that Latinos are idiots, and can be mollified by moves like this. Most likely, Republicans are so deluded that they don’t understand that Latinos will blame the GOP for failing to pass immigration reform. Conferring honorary citizenship on one guy who’s been dead for more than 200 years won’t make anyone forget millions of living breathing human beings waiting for a path to real citizenship, or forgive Republicans for blocking that path.

How The Right Shoots Down Political Discourse

Guns — their presence, and all it portends — are increasingly invading every corner of our every day lives. They have morphed into a form of symbolic speech that threatens to shoot down our political discourse.

It seemed almost too good to be true, when the National Rifle Association issued a press release criticizing the recent antics of “open carry” activists.  It was too good to be true. The NRA quickly reversed itself, and apologized.

“Open carry” activists are gun owners who insist upon the right to openly carry their firearms, everywhere. Open carry protests at restaurants like Chipotle, Sonic, Starbucks, and Chili’s have led those chains to prohibit firearms in their restaurants. Polling places may be next.

The NRA’s first press release was a reaction to alarming behavior by open carry activists:

The open carry movement dates back as far as 1967, when armed members of the Black Panther Party marched on the California State capitol in opposition to a law against carrying loaded firearms in public. The movement died down until  2000, when members of the New Black Panther party joined other groups in protesting the death sentence conviction of Gary Graham by openly carrying shotguns and rifles at the Republican National Convention in Houston, Texas.

In 2008, the open carry movement experienced a revival, and a transformation in look and tone, with Barack Obama election to the presidency. Patrick Blanchfield, writing in the New York Times, notes that guns have increasingly appeared in the public square since Obama’s 2008 election victory. Open carry activists began showing up at Obama’s campaign events, and later at events where President Obama was appearing or speaking, openly displaying handguns and assault weapons.

Guns carried at political rallies and open carry protests have morphed into a  kind of “symbolic speech” recognized by courts as protected by the First Amendment. Distressing, and outrageous speech — even calls to overthrow the government — is protected, unless intended to provoke illegal acts.

"We Came Unarmed (This Time)"?Injecting guns into our political discourse not only pits the First Amendment against the Second Amendment, but also transforms the nature of protest. The courage of one’s convictions is no longer enough. “The physical bravery to face down men with guns,” while armed with nothing more that your ideas, is now also necessary. This is how the right shoots down political discourse.

What guns “say, as symbolic speech, has everything to do with who wields them. Republicans are twice as likely to own a gun as Democrats. White Americans are twice as likely to own a gun as people of color. Southerners are 50 percent more likely to own guns, than anyone else. Half of men are gun owners, compared to 13 percent of women.  David Frum wrote, “[T]he core gun constituency looks a lot like the Tea Party on the firing range.” The same is true of the open carry protests.

Open carry protestors, the gun-toting “militia” on Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch, and conservative politicians brandishing guns and threatening a “Second Amendment solution,” are part of a trend of increasing willingness on the right to use implicit and explicit  threats of violence to intimidate opposition, and impose a political agenda that has proven unattainable at the ballot box. In each case, Blanchfield writes, the message is the same: “I feel so strongly about this issue, the gun says, that if I don’t get my way, I am willing to kill for it.”

Right-wing author and pundit Ann Coulter once wrote that conservatives need to “physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too.” In an era when mass shootings are so common that pundits tell us we just need to accept that “there will always be mass murder,” and almost all public spaces — schools, offices, shopping malls, restaurants, bars movie theaters, churches, and polling places — are potential shooting galleries, is it just a matter of time before what was once just right-wing eliminationist rhetoric becomes reality?

Why The Lawlessness At Bundy’s Ranch Must Not Stand

Right-wing lawlessness continues apace at Cliven Bundy’s ranch, where supporters who were itching to shoot police officers and federal agents, nearly shot each other instead. Some citizens want the “militia” out. Can this thing end without bloodshed?

Standoff At The Ranch

It was inevitable that the “militiamen” who flocked to Cliven Bundy’s ranch would turn their guns on each other. It’s poetic that the people who rushed to defend Bundy’s mythological “ancestral rights” to flout federal law, would draw guns against one another over their own delusions.

Last week, the Oath Keepers circulated a rumor that the Obama administration had planned “drone strikes” against Bundy and his supporters. Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes advised his people to pull out. (The Oath Keepers later claimed the rumor was government “psy-ops” against Bundy’s supporters.)

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, this angered members of Mike Vanderbough’s so-called “III Percent Militia,” who voted to oust the Oath Keepers. Some even threatened to shoot Rhodes and his men in the back, as “deserters.”

Rhodes responded with a video in which he described an encampment of hot-headed “nut cases,” standing with weapons drawn, ready to kill each other.

Denied the Waco-like or Ruby Ridge-style incident they desired, Bundy’s backers seem to need to point their guns at someone.

Showdown With The Sherrif

In mid-April, Clark County Sheriff David Gillespie rode out to Cliven Bundy’s ranch, to tell Bundy about the deal with the Bureau of Land Management to suspend the roundup of Bundy’s cattle. Bundy would only speak with the sheriff on a stage surrounded by his armed supporters, whereupon Bundy started giving the sheriff orders to disarm federal park service officers, bulldoze entrances to federal parks, and “report back here in an hour,” with the arms Bundy ordered seized.

Thirty to forty police officers arrayed between BLM agents and 400 “militiamen” armed with AK-47s and AR-15s feared a bloodbath. Some “militia” members pointed their guns at officers, and seemed to want a violent outcome. One officer said a “militia” member asked him if he was “ready to die.”

8 News NOW

Armed “militiamen” also blocked local media 8 News NOW’s access to public roads. Some even poured lighter fluid around the Channel 8 news van, while others “got physical.” Bundy supporters have also posted photos and identifying information about BLM employees involved in the roundup on various social network pages.

Capitol Police  are investigating death threats against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has been sharply critical of Bundy and his supporters. Reid recently increased his security detail, after receiving death threats at his home from Bundy supporters — probably driven in part by a conspiracy theory that Reid engineered the fight with Bundy in order to “take people’s land in his state so he can re-sell it to the Chinese.”

Vanderboegh threatened Reid at a rally, saying, “Don’t poke the wolverine with a sharp stick, Harry, unless you want your balls ripped off.”

Lawlessness Must Not Stand

In a letter to Sheriff Gillespie, Rep. Steve Horsford wrote that Bundy’s supporters have assumed police powers and authority. Armed  “militia” members have set up checkpoints, requiring motorists to “prove they live in the area before being allowed to pass,” and established a “persistent presence” around highways, local schools, and churches.  Horsford wrote the letter after at an event near Mesquite, where he was approached by constituents who were concerned about the presence and activities of Bundy’s armed “militia.”

Ammon Bundy, Cliven’s son, denied that “militiamen” who accompany his father to news conferences and guard the family home have established an intimidating presence. “They have sidearms,” Ammon Bundy said, “not rifles.” Sidearms are still guns, though, and they make a statement.

Patrick Blanchfield, writing in the New York Times, interprets what the guns at Bundy’s ranch — and guns that have appeared more and more often in the public square — are saying. They may be “a vestige of Old West range-war mentality.” “But,” Blanchfield writes, “as a transaction between the state and citizens decided not by the rule of law, nor by vote or debate, but rather by the simple presence of arms, Bunkerville is deeply troubling.”

William Rivers Pitt is blunt: “…and note you well: here in America, you can point a high-powered rifle at federal officers and get off scot-free with your gun still in your hand.”

BLM agents had good reason not to give Bundy’s supporters the violent confrontation they wanted. The consequences could have been far worse than allowing them a momentary, symbolic victory.

Bundy and his supporters are part of the sovereign citizen movement, which believes the US government is illegitimate, that they are “free of legal constraints,” JJ MacNab, in Forbes magazine writes that “sovereigns” like Bundy and his supporters believe that the majority of Americans agree with their goals and objectives, and all that’s needed is a “shot heard round world” to rally Americans to their cause. They believe this fervently enough that they put women and children on the front line at Bundy’s ranch.

Bundy ally and former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack even suggested that the “shock value” of women and children being shot by “rogue federal officers” might lead more outraged Americans to join their cause.

The BLM’s decision to stand down probably saved dozens of lives, along with denying Bundy and his supporters greater media attention and a platform of martyrs to stand upon. But Clark County police say it’s not over.

8 News NOW

Nor should it be over. The lawlessness on display at Bundy’s ranch must not stand. The consequences are too great. The rule of law is essential ingredient of democracy. Without it, we risk devolving from “a government of laws, not men,” to government by the men with the most guns.

Bundy’s “Militia” Is Lawlessness of a Different Color

At what point do armed citizens consider themselves the law, based on little more than their numbers and their guns? The latest news from Bundy Ranch, raises this and many other questions.

The Bureau of Land Management called an end to its gather of Cliven Bundy’s cattle. Even though the agency was well within its rights to take action — considering that Bundy owes more than $1million in unpaid grazing fees, and the courts have repeatedly ruled against him for 20 years — it stood down after well-armed, self-appointed “militias” rush to defend Bundy’s freeloading, rather than give right right-wing another Waco or Ruby Ridge myth to rally around. 

The BLM is gone, now, but the militia is still hanging around and beginning to show its dark side. With nothing better to do, Bundy’s “militia” is reportedly setting up “checkpoints” and requiring locals to show proof of residence before being allowed to pass. In a letter to Clark County Sheriff David Gillespie, Rep. Steve Horsford (D, Nevada) describe the checkpoints and other intimidating behavior. 

My constituents have expressed concern that members of these armed militia groups:

1. Have set up checkpoints where residents are required to prove they live in the area before being allowed to pass;

2. Have established a persistent presence along federal highways and state and county roads; and

3. Have established an armed presence in or around community areas including local churches, school, and other community locations.

Horsord writes that his constituents have been forced to “live under the persistent watch of an armed militia,” that answers to no particular authority other than its own, and is accountable to no one. 

Let’s be clear. There is nothing that gives any of the so-called “militia” members the right to stop anyone and demand anything, let alone to establish armed patrols in the community. What’s happening around Bundy Ranch now is outright intimidation. 

Gun Bullying

The phrase used to describe it lately is, “gun bullying,” and it rose in the wake of anti-gun protest following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. It happens when gun-toting protestors flout open-carry laws at counter-demonstrations, to intimidate anti-gun protesters. It happened in Dallas, Texas, when 40 armed gun advocates gathered outside a restaurant where they knew Moms Demand Action For Gun Safety In America (MDA) was meeting, started getting guns out of their trucks, and waited for the group members to come out. MDA later issued a press release calling the group “gun bullies.” 

But the phenomena takes on an even more sinister tone when self-appointed “militias” used a show of arms to intimidate opponents, and the threat of violence to affect policy making and law enforcement. That’s what happened in GIlberton, Pennsylvania, where embattled police chief Mark Kessler — who was running for sherif — was put on suspension after disturbing videos surfaced of him shooting automatic assault rifles while ranting against “libtards” and other perceived political enemies, as well as videos of Kessler in uniform, repeatedly shooting at a target he called “Nancy Pelosi.”

Kessler also happened be the head of a private “militia” called the Constitutional Security Force (CSF). When the city/county council met to consider disciplinary action against Kessler, more than 100 armed members of his personal “militia” gathered outside the meeting. Some CFS “militia” members patrolled the meeting area, telling the media they were there to provide extra “security.” They also angrily confronted a member of Keystone Progress, who brought petition signatures from more than 20,000 who wanted Kessler fired. Rather than fire Kessler, the council decided to suspend him for 30 days without pay.

What’s unfolding in Nevada hasn’t become quite as extreme, yet. But give it time. 

Lawlessness of a Different Color

Let’s be clear. Clive Bundy is a criminal. After losing in court for over 20 years, Bundy employed the threat of violence to continue illegally grazing his cattle without paying the grazing fee that other ranchers pay. A simple review of county records proves Bundy’s claims on the land are  bogus. Whipped into a frenzy by Fox News, Bundy now has an armed “militia” supporting him in flouting the law.

If Bundy and his supporters were black or Latino, and wore hoodies instead of cowboy hands, they wouldn’t be called a “militia.” They would be called a gang of armed “thugs.” Instead of hailing them as heroic patriots, the talking heads at Fox News would be calling for them to be arrested, if not shot on sight. 

History bears this out. In May of 1967, Black Panthers invaded the California statehouse. Thirty well-armed young black men and women arrived on the west lawn of the state capitol, and climbed the capitol steps. Bobby Seal read a prepared statement:

“The American people in general and the black people in particular,” he announced, must take careful note of the racist California legislature aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late. 

What drove the Black Panthers to the capitol was opposition to gun control.Then governor Ronald Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons,” and called guns “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.”

But that was when the NRA supported gun control, and Republicans were still the “law and order” party.” What’s happening at Bundy Ranch may be lawlessness, but it’s lawlessness of a different color — and that makes all the difference. 

The Bully and the Brain: Paul Ryan and Christie Get Earfuls At Town Hall Meetings

It’s been a rough week for two of the GOP’s leading lights. Tumultuous town halls showed that two of conservatism’s biggest stars, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie, may be crashing to earth, and taking the GOP’s 2016 hopes down with them. 

Paul Ryan — “The Brain”

Rep. Paul Ryan (R, WI) has been one of the GOP’s best hopes for the future since he was named as one of Republican party’s “young guns,” along with Reps. Eric Cantor (R, VA) and Kevin McCarthy (R, CA). Together the 40-something “youngsters” represented a new generation of conservative leaders. Cantor was the “leader” of the pack, and McCarthy was the “strategist,” Ryan was cast as the “thinker” — the idea man who would make conservative policies palatable to the general public.

Conservatives saw their ideas ridiculed and rejected as backwards. Ryan made them feel smart. Conservative policies were criticized as heartless and cruel. Ryan gave them a thin veneer of compassion, with a message that conservatives were essentially being “cruel to be kind.”

Ryan was surprisingly successful at selling conservative “ideas,” considering the lack of substance and originality in his work. Ryan’s coronation in no less than the New York Times was a testament to how easily draconian budgets that all but eliminated programs like Social Security and Medicare, raised taxes for the middle-class, and gave even bigger tax breaks to the wealthy could be sold with little more than ill-fitting suits, dazzling blue eyes, and mid-western earnestness. Ryan’s rise culminated with his elevation to the no. 2 spot on the GOP’s 2012 presidential ticket, to shore up Mitt Romney’s conservative credentials. 

This month, Ryan was back in the spotlight with a survey of the war on poverty, that was roundly trashed by the very scholars whose work Ryan manipulated to make his point. In his speech at CPAC, Ryan used a bogus story about a schoolboy to suggest that low-income parents don’t care about their children.  Finally, last week Ryan made news again on Bill Bennett’s radio show, and tooted his dog whistle about “inner city culture” and poverty. Ryan even cited conservative researcher who claimed that blacks and Latinos have lower IQs than whites.

Naturally, all hell broke lose, and Ryan’s attempts to walk back his remarks didn’t fool anyone. 

The controversy followed Ryan back to his home district this week. where constituents at a town hall meeting confronted him on opposition to Obamacare. Things got even more heated when Alfonso Gardner, a black man from Mount Pleasant, blasted Ryan for his “inner city culture” remarks

Ryan repeated his claim that his comments were “not about race,” but Garner remained as unconvinced as everyone else — besides Republicans, that is. 

Chris Christie — “The Bully”

If Paul Ryan represented the “brains” of the conservative movement, then New Jersey governor Chris Christie embodied conservatism’s bullying spirit. Christie’s manner made him the ideal pitchman for the “bully economy” — the “hard sell” flip-side of Ryan’s “soft sell.” Christie’s willingness to use the authority and power of his office to silence, intimidate, and punish those who opposed him, made him the GOP’s celebrity bully, because Christie was not only willing to be a bully, but reveled in it. 

Christie cultivated his bully image. Staff members accompanied the governor to town hall meetings, armed with camcorders to capture Christie  shouting down and belittling citizens who dared criticize him. Christie’s staff then edited the videos, and posted them to Christie’s YouTube channel, and conservatives passed them around like tweens circulating the latest boy band video. At a time when conservatives were out of power, Christie made them feel powerful.  

Scandal continued to plague Christie this week.

  • Recently released emails related to the Bridgegate scandal showed that Christie’s ex-campaign manager Bill Stepien was kept in the loop by Christie’s top Port Authority appointee, even as lanes remained blocked on the George Washington Bridge, making it harder to believe that Christie remained completely out of the loop.
  • Campaign documents show that once elected to his first term as governor, Christie awarded big pension management contracts to his Wall Street donors — after the Christie campaign criticized Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine for making it “easier for his friends from Wall Street to manage New Jersey’s pension fund.” 
  • Complaints over disbursement of Hurricane Sandy relief — including delays, shoddy work from contractors, and shady dealings in how Christie’s administration doles out the funds — grew louder and more numerous. 

Christie got a taste of his own medicine at his most recent town hall

It’s only going to get worse. According to recent Bloomberg News Poll, 63 percent of Americans don’t believe Christie’s Bridgegate denials, and that includes 43 percent of Republicans. 

Christie may soon face the worst moment in any bully’s career — that moment when the people he used to bully aren’t afraid of him anymore, and the people who used to back him up don’t anymore. 

The Future?

With the bully and the brain of the conservative movement in trouble, and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker dealing with his own problems, what does that mean for right-wing hopes in 2016? Let’s put it this way. Republicans are taking a second look at Jeb Bush, Joe Scarborough is testing the waters, Mike Huckabee is slimming down again, and Bobby Jindal is making all the right noises. 

Stuart Varney is Outraged That States Are Still Feeding The Poor Despite Food Stamp Cuts

Fox News host Stuart Varney worked himself into a later because states are finding ways to feed the poor, despite food stamp cuts. It truly must be seen to be believed.

Only a conservative like Varney — and possibly Paul Ryan — could be outraged that poor people aren’t starving in the streets, for the sake of the national debt. It’s par for the course for Varney, who has in the past boasted about being “mean to poor people.”

Clearly Stuart Varney doesn’t care about poor people, but if Varney really cared about spending on food stamps then he’d be in favor of raising the minimum wage. Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would cut food stamp spending by $46 billion over 10 years. That’s $6 billion more than the $40 billion that House Republicans wanted to cut.

States are finding ways to feed the hungry, because people are still hungry. Cuts to food stamps don’t lead reduce the need for food assistance, but fewer people getting assistance. That’s how conservatism works. Raising the minimum wage means more people can afford basics like food and shelter, and thus fewer people need food assistance. 

Multi-million dollar companies are collecting billions of dollars in corporate welfare, because taxpayers supplement the meager wages they pay their employees through safety net programs like food stamps. Instead of railing against the poor, and looking for way to inflict more pain upon them, conservatives like Stuart Varney should be incensed about that. But that’s not who they are. 

Conservatives Offer Americans Empty Stomachs and Empty Rhetoric

Paul Ryan says that “the left” is offering Americans “a full stomach and an empty soul.” The truth is that conservatives like Paul Ryan are offering Americans empty stomachs and empty rhetoric . The American people want more than that.

Near the end of his Thursday morning speech at CPAC(the Conservative Political Action Conference), Paul Ryan told a story about a boy who didn’t want his free school lunch.

The story wasn’t true. Eloise Anderson, an aide to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, did tell Ryan the story at a congressional hearing last summer, but she never met or spoke to any little boy who told her he didn’t want his free school lunch.

The story was purloined from a book titled “An Invisible Thread.” The book is about a friendship between Laura Schroff and Maurice Mazyck. They met in New York in 1986, when she was an ad executive and he was an 11-year-old panhandler.

The “brown bag” conversation did happen, but had nothing to do with school lunch programs. Ironically, Schroff and Mazyck are now partnering with No Kid Hungry, an organization dedicated to ending child hunger in the U.S., in part by connecting low-income students with federal programs like school lunches.

It’s never a good idea to take anything that an aide to Scott Walker says as gospel. But Paul Ryan can’t even manage a decent copy-and-paste job on the economic data that he misused and misrepresented to support his screed against anti-poverty programs. He can hardly be expected to fact-check such a good-sounding story.

Ryan’s story isn’t real, but the stigma attached to subsidized school lunches is. Lunchtime can be the most socially stressful part of the school day, for any student. Invisible, ever-shifting social boundaries crisscross school cafeterias. So much is riding on where students sit, or even whether they have friends to sit with.

School LunchStudents who get subsidized lunches have much more to deal with. Lunchroom practices sometimes reveal students low-income status to their peers. Some schools have separate lines for students receiving subsidized lunches, and students who buy theirs. Others have an “a la carte” line, where students with cash can buy items not available in the subsidized lunch line.

It gets worse.

No wonder some students choose to go without lunch, and not face the stigma.

School districts are finding ways to relieve that stigma.

  • New York schools have held regular promotions, inviting professional athletes to eat subsidized lunches in their jerseys.
  • Other schools have integrated lunch lines, and implemented cashless systems, so that all students  go through the same line, and those receiving free lunches are less easily identified.
  • Boston public schools serve free school lunches to all students, even if their families are able to pay, as part of an experimental federal initiative, designed to make it easier for students from low-income families to get free meals, by eliminating the need to fill out forms.

Low income students would face even more stigma if the GOP had its way. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) doesn’t mind billing taxpayers for his lunches, but Kingston suggested that schools should have low-income students do janitorial work, like “sweep the floor of the cafeteria,” to “instill in them that there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Kingston said his remarks were not targeted at a particular income group, but it’s a safe bet that students who can will buy or bring their lunches, and not have to clean up after their classmates. Kingston’s scenario would require “the children from poor families to stick around the cafeteria to sweep up while their better-off friends hitch off to recess.” Students who already skip eating lunch to avoid stigma might just skip school altogether.

Kingston’s views echo those of other conservatives. They reflect a conservative agenda that blames the poor, stigmatizes those who need help, and shames those who receive help.

Republicans are willing to walk their talk.

Paul Ryan need only go to Wall Street – or, for that matter, through the walkways of National Harbor, the shiny new suburban Washington enclave where the CPAC conference was being held – to find “full stomachs and empty souls,” where Americans pick up the lunch tab for some of the very banksters who drove the country into financial disaster and recession. If conservatives prefer full stomachs in corporate boardrooms to full stomachs in America’s classrooms, they are the one’s with “empty souls.”