The question my students most often ask me is, "Why do you give so much work?"
The second most often-asked question is, "Got any food?"
Before this last weekend I had never thought to sit and quantify the questions my students ask me. But Paul Ryan made me do it.
Wisconsin GOP Congressman Ryan spoke Thursday at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual meeting of conservative activists that serves as a pilgrimage for any professional conservative with a book or a campaign to sell. You have probably heard that a key anecdote from Ryan's speech turned out to be plagiarized, not by Ryan, but by Ryan's source – Eloise Anderson, Secretary of Wisconsin's Department of Children and Families, an appointee of Gov. Scott Walker.
Here's what Ryan said Thursday, according to the Washington Post's "Fact Checker" Glenn Kessler:
(Anderson) once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.
Ryan told the story to suggest that "the left," in his words, wanted to offer hungry children not a full stomach but "an empty soul." A free lunch at school, Ryan argued, robs children of the love, acceptance and comfort that only a family, via a home-packed lunch, can provide.
I started thinking about my students' questions of me because I read Kessler's column Friday morning before I left for school, and literally within a few minutes of the start of school that morning, one of my kids did in fact ask me if I had any food. The question came back repeatedly throughout the day.
Some of this I'm sure is standard adolescent rapaciousness; I was fed well in my middle-class home when I was an teenager, but I was very good at sniffing out food from teachers and classmates or sneaking some of those little blueberry muffin things when I worked my shifts at Burger King.
But my school also has a near 90 percent free and reduced lunch rate, meaning the vast majority of kids walking the halls are from families with incomes below, at, or just above the poverty line – and many of the kids are, in fact, hungry when they're asking me for food.
But back to Paul Ryan. As it turns out, the story Anderson told Ryan (during testimony before Congress!) was lifted from a book by Laura Schroff, and the boy who wanted a brown bag was named Maurice Mazyck. Anderson's spokesperson gave Kessler a statement claiming the secretary "misspoke" in her testimony, but Kessler couldn't verify the supposedly corrected version of Anderson's story, either.
More importantly, I think, is that Schroff and Mazyck are busy living the exact opposite of what Ryan was trying to say by appropriating their anecdote. The two are, according to a news release Kessler links to, working with No Kid Hungry to provide healthy meals to hungry children. Indeed, a key part of No Kid Hungry's mission is making sure that families can access food stamps, free school lunches and other soul-sucking methods of getting food to hungry kids.
Ryan's schtick at CPAC, claiming that government help for those in need crushes spirits and steals souls, is a pretty common trope among those on the right eager to curb government spending primarily by cutting programs for the poor. I think that conservatives want to say they care – they just care about your existential well-being much more than they care about whether you go to bed hungry or, for that matter, have a bed or even a home.
"I want you to have love and self respect more than I want you to have a mock chicken leg," they say. You can hear the "It hurts me as much as it hurts you" lurking just under the surface there, and it's no more a consolation from someone like Ryan than it was from your dad before he delivered a spanking.
I think Ryan's schtick would seem more genuine if there were actual solutions behind his rhetoric. In the CPAC speech, Ryan said – rightly, I think – that a growing economy is good for poor families. The trouble is his ideas, like like cutting Medicare or food stamps or Head Start or other programs that primarily help the poor, do the opposite of grow the economy.
It's bad enough that Ryan's recent report on 50 years of America's "War on Poverty" abuses the data; it also misrepresents the reality of social mobility in America and the effects of government programs. Food stamps, for example, have ( nearly double) the benefits to the wider economy than their cost. Recent research suggests that the best anti-poverty program may well be just giving people money, no strings attached. The Earned Income Tax Credit does exactly that to great success for America's poor – and that is a program Ryan has a history of trying to slash.
Ryan said at CPAC that "the left just doesn’t understand" the value of knowing someone cares about them, with his purloined tale of the brown bag. "People don’t just want a life of comfort," Ryan said, "they want a life of dignity – of self-determination."
When my students ask if I have any chips or candy or, sometimes, fruit, they're not asking for a life of comfort. They're not handing me their dignity in exchange for Cheetos, their self-determination for an apple. They don't want a speech. They want a meal. They're hungry.
Paul Ryan and his party would rather they stay that way. For their "soul."
The point is that he both plagiarized and lied. Hunger trumps dignity any day. It's good to recognize a lie and even better to hold people accountable for their lies. Please stay on topic with your replies. Political grandstanding is just disgusting. Lyin' Ryan - It's not just a nickname, it's a career.
This is just riveting stuff. Sigh.
The President of the United States of America has been getting up in front of the people of this nation for 5 consecutive years and lying to their face regarding his plan for health care, what it will mean for them, and who, ultimately, will benefit from the legislation. But instead of focusing on the big guy, the one actually in charge, you goofs are chasing down anecdotal quotes from stump speeches at conferences. Earlier this week you had Dan Bice over at the Journal playing keystone cop and tracking down people who appeared in stock online imagery used in a Republican TV ad. Is this really what you've come to? Because your ideas and philosophy have been put on full display as an unmitigated failure, you're going to try and disprove the other side by chasing ghosts? OK. Good luck with that.
3 comments about this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Jay Bullock
Published July 30, 2014
Last week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) set forth another in his continuing series (like Harry Potter, but with more magical thinking) of budget committee plans designed to "help" the poor. I'd like to offer 100 things Paul Ryan could have proposed in this most recent version but didn't that might actually help the poor.
Published July 21, 2014
Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker finally got off the fence and called for the state's lawmakers to "repeal Common Core and replace it with standards set by people in Wisconsin." Clearly an attempt to motivate his base, Walker's statement -- like most anti-Common Core sentiments -- missed the mark on what the real problems are and opened up an ugly can of worms.
Published July 15, 2014
For a party that has long claimed to oppose frivolous lawsuits, the Republicans last week sure seemed pretty tort-happy.
Published July 8, 2014
The Supreme Court is, pretty often, going to make decisions any of us can disagree with. The court as it is now has managed to anger people on the left and the right -- the left more often, thank you Ralph Nader -- but last week's decisions on birth control have raised the Roberts court's penchant for disagreeability to a new level, one that is undeniably trolling.
Published July 1, 2014
For more than a year now, the conservative outrage machine has had its sights squarely on the Internal Revenue Service. I mean, among other things; the conservative outrage machine is an accomplished multi-tasker, so the IRS has had to compete with Benghazi and Fast and Furious and the machine's continuing surprise that a U.S. president enjoys golf.
Published June 24, 2014
Wisconsin simply must not abide a governor whose allies, associates, and employees see the law as something to be circumvented, rather than followed.
Published June 17, 2014
Teacher tenure is not the cause of poor student achievement, and trying to "reform" it will do nothing to improve educational outcomes for the students who most need our help. Indeed, they will suffer as any last protections or incentives for good teachers to stay are "reformed" right out of existence.
Published June 10, 2014
Now that Dr. Gregory Thornton has nearly finished his tenure at the helm of Wisconsin's largest school district, it's time to look back on his performance. According to Jay Bullock, Thornton's four years here have been a bit of a mixed bag, but overall, he was more successful than his last few predecessors at the Milwaukee Public Schools.
Published June 3, 2014
Even though more than 800 people were injured, up to 300 people were killed, 35 blocks of a city were destroyed, and 10,000 people were left homeless by the Tulsa Race Riot -- making it the biggest race riot of the 20th century -- Jay Bullock had never encountered the story until last month, when he read "The Case for Reparations," a massive and thorough argument by The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Published May 27, 2014
When 10-year-old Sierra Guyton was shot May 21 on the playground of Clarke Street School, she rightly became the focus of the day's news and several news cycles thereafter. But there were other victims of the gunfire that evening - other children on the playground, for example, and neighbors living near the school. While none of them took a bullet, all of them suffered an acute trauma.