House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) covered a fair amount of ground in his speech this morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), but there was one story in particular that stood out.
“This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my friend Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But 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.“That’s what the Left just doesn’t understand.”
I’ve read this a few times, hoping Ryan had some other subtle subtext, but I’m afraid the congressman really is as confused as his anecdote suggests.
The child may have wanted a lunch in a brown-paper bag, but – and I hope Ryan pauses to really think about this – his family is poor. The boy “didn’t want a free lunch,” but – and this is key – he didn’t want to be hungry, either.
It’s true that Republican policymakers could take away that free lunch the child received at the school, but that doesn’t mean the boy’s family will suddenly have more money to pack a healthy lunch in a brown-paper bag.
What’s more, it’s also true this kid may come from a struggling family, but it doesn’t mean he lacks “someone who cares for him”; it means he and his family lack the resources needed to send him to school with a good meal. Robert Schlesinger added, “A kid with a brown paper bag does have someone who loves them; but the kid without the brown paper bag, the one whose parent either won’t or can’t – because they’re working hard to get ahead and give themselves and their families better lives – deserves a society that loves and cares for them too.”
That’s what Paul Ryan just doesn’t understand.
In the same speech, the Wisconsin Republican added:
“The reason [Democrats[ keep talking about income inequality is because they can’t talk about economic growth. They have spent five, long years in power, and all they have to show for it is this lousy website.”
That’d be a good point, just so long as one overlooks the Recovery Act that ended the Great Recession, the millions of new jobs, health care reform that brought coverage to millions, the rescue of the auto industry, Wall Street reform, the end of the war in Iraq, counter-terrorism successes, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and student-loan reform, among other things.
Oh, and the health care website was fixed a few months ago.
Other that, though, Ryan’s on strong ground.
Update: In the school-lunch anecdote, I falsely assumed Ryan had the basic details of the story right. He didn’t: “Via Wonkette, the school lunch story appears to have been recycled from a story and altered beyond recognition in the process. The original story had nothing to do with a child turning down a free lunch. It’s about a kid, Maurice, who met a private benefactor, Laura, asking to literally have his lunch placed in a brown paper bag.”
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Paul Ryan and the brown bag