Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I don't usually write about Republicans and Democrats, but this Republican drive to cut food stamps makes me so sick to my stomach that I just can't avoid doing just that. 

Cut food stamps...NOW...are you kidding me.  The GOP says, well, unemployment is dropping so now is the time. Whoopee!  Even the jobs people are getting these days, the lucky ones, often don't pay enough to feed their families.  Cut food stamps, that's the Republican plan.

One Afghan veteran had this to say to those Republicans who want to take literally the food out of his mouth:

My name is Jason. I turned 35 less than a week ago. My first job was maintenance work at a public pool when I was 17. I worked 40 hours a week while I was in college. I’ve never gone longer than six months without employment in my life and I just spent the last three years in the military, one of which consisted of a combat tour of Afghanistan.

    Oh, and I’m now on food stamps. Since June, as a matter of fact.

Why am I on food stamps?

    The same reason everyone on food stamps is on food stamps: because I would very much enjoy not starving.

I mean, if that’s okay with you:

Mr. or Mrs. Republican congressman.

Mr. or Mrs. Conservative commentator.

Mr. or Mrs. “welfare queen” letter-to-the-editor author

Mr. or Mrs. “fiscal conservative, reason-based” libertarian.

I do apologize for burdening you on the checkout line with real-life images of American-style poverty. I know you probably believe the only true starving people in the world have flies buzzing around their eyes while they wallow away, near-lifeless in gutters.

Hate to burst the bubble, but those people don’t live in this country.

I do. And millions like me. Millions of people in poverty who fall into three categories.

Let’s call them the “lucky” category, since conservatives seem to think people on welfare have hit some sort of jackpot:

Those living paycheck to paycheck? They’re a little lucky.

Those living unemployment check to unemployment check? They’re a little luckier.

Those living 2nd of the month to 2nd of the month? Ding! We’ve hit the jackpot!

The 2nd of the month being the time when funds gets electronically deposited onto the EBT card, [at least in NY] for those who’ve never been fortunate enough to hit that $175/month Powerball.

I fall into the latter two categories. But I’ve known people recently — soldiers in the Army — who were in the first and third. They were off fighting in Afghanistan while their wives were at home, buying food at the on-post commissary with food stamps.

And nobody bats an eye there, because it’s not uncommon in the military.

It’s not uncommon — nor is it shameful. It might be shameful how little service-members are paid, but that’s a separate issue.

The fact remains anyone at a certain income level can find it difficult from time to time to pay for everything. And when you’re poor you learn to make sacrifices. Food shouldn’t be one of them.

What Jason just doesn't understand is that the Republicans, those a-holes who want to cut food stamps really don't give a shit about him...or anyone remotely like him.  Don't care.  Never did.  Never will.  Ain't their problem.  Want your vote, sure, but otherwise, you can go to hell. 

Beyond that, though, most of these Republicans are thinking of race when they wan't to cut those food stamps.  I don't know if Jason is black, brown or red.  I don't know anything about Jason's race, but in the world of Republicans what he is not, is white.

They talk food stamps, they see these people of color.  They see people of color, and they see welfare cheats.  "Let em all starve to death, who needs em."  That is their mantra.

Yet, as Edward Wyckoff Williams at the Root points out,

...despite prevailing racial stereotypes, which first became mainstream during President Ronald Reagan’s tenure and his propagation of the Chicago “welfare queen” myth, the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients are white. And curiously, many of them are Republicans. USDA data show that in 2011, 37 percent of food stamp users were from white, non-Hispanic households.

And of the 254 counties where the number of food stamp recipients doubled between 2007 and 2011, Republican candidate Mitt Romney won 213 in last year’s presidential election. Bloomberg News compiled research revealing that Kentucky’s Owsley County — which backed Romney with 81 percent of its vote — had the largest proportion of food stamp recipients of all the communities where Romney won.

What is most curious is that this isn’t surprising. The poorest states in the union tend to be the most reliably red, with Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas among the top 10.

According to the Bloomberg research, more than half of Owsley County’s population — 52 percent — received food stamps in 2011 alone. The county’s racial makeup is 97.6 percent white, and it has a median household income of $19,344 — in comparison with the national median household income of $52,762. In fact, four in 10 of the country’s residents live below the poverty line, based on U.S. census statistics.

Republican Rep. Hal Rogers, who represents Owsley County and won his 16th term in the House of Representatives last year, boldly joined the GOP majority that voted to cut billions from food stamp services. It seems mind-boggling that Rogers also won 84 percent of the vote, yet in matters that most concern the economic interests of his constituents, he acts with impunity.

And Rogers isn’t alone.

Two-thirds of the 39 legislators who represent America’s 100 hungriest counties voted “yea” on behalf of the measure, which eventually passed 217-210. Reps. Andy Barr, R-Ky., Paul Broun, R-Ga., Gregg Harper, R-Miss., and a host of others joined. In fact, all but 15 members of the Grand Old Party voted in favor.

What does this say about Republicans?  What does this say about those poor and working class white folks who vote for them...over and over again.

Oh, have I mentioned yet,  Several of the House Republicans who voted Thursday for a bill that slashed billions of dollars from the food stamp program personally received large farm subsidies for family farms.  Buzz Feed points out:

During the food stamp debate, GOP Rep. Stephen Fincher, who received thousands in farm subsidies, responded to a Democratic Congressman during the debate over the cuts by quoting the bible, saying “the one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Fincher himself has received his own large share of government money. From 1999 to 2012, Stephen & Lynn Fincher Farms received $3,483,824 in agriculture subsidies. Last year he took in $70,574 alone.

Another Republican congresswoman who voted to make cuts to the food stamp program was Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri. Her farm received more than $800,000 in Department of Agriculture subsidies from 1995-2012. In 2001, her farm received $135,482 in subsidies. 

Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, who also voted to make cuts to the program, was a partner in Racota Valley Ranch, her family’s farm and previously had nearly a 17% stake through 2008. The farm received $3.4 million in subsidies from 1995-2012. The Environmental Working Group, which analyzes subsidy data, says the “estimated amount of subsidies attributed to Rep. Noem from 1995-2012 is $503,751.”

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, a Republican Rep. from Indiana also received his fair share of government subsidies. He personally took in nearly $200,000 for the farm he co-owns with his father.

According to the New York Times Stutzman said Thursday the bill cutting food stamps by $39 billion over the next ten years “eliminates loopholes, ensures work requirements, and puts us on a fiscally responsible path. 

Does the word "hypocrites" come to mind?

There is more to be said, and Chauncey Devega over at We are Respectable Negroes blog says it well.

The Republican Vote to Cut Food Stamps is Really a Decision to Kill the "Useless Eaters"

15 million Americans were “food insecure” in the United States during 2012. The Great Recession has increased the number of Americans who do not have sufficient food by 30 percent. The fastest growing group of people who need some assistance with obtaining sufficient food to maintain a basic standard of living is the elderly. Hunger in America is estimated to cost the U.S. economy 167 billion dollars.

Approximately 20 percent of American children live in poverty. Food insecurity and hunger leads to a long-term decline in life spans and a diminished standard of living for whole communities.

Last week, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to cut 39 billion dollars from federal food assistance programs. Their vote is more than just the next act in the ongoing politics of cruelty by the Republican Party in the Age of Obama.

It is a decision to kill poor people.

In America, discussions of poverty are linked in the public imagination to stereotypes about race, class, and gender. The face of poverty is not white (the group which in fact comprises the largest group of recipients for government aid). Instead, it is the mythical black welfare queen, or an “illegal” immigrant who is trying to pilfer the system at the expense of “hard working” white Americans.

Discussions about poverty are also easily transformed into claims about morality and virtue. Consequently, while the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is very efficient and involves very little if any fraud on the part of its participants, stereotypes about the poor can be used to legitimate the policing and harassment of Americans in need of food support through mandatory drug testing and other unnecessary programs.

Here, the long-term end goal for Republicans is revealed for what it is—a desire to make being a poor person into a crime.

Such a project serves a broader effort by conservatives to further transfer resources upward to the 1 percent from the American people. The decision by Republicans to further punish the poor, while the United States is in the midst of one of the greatest economic calamities in recent memory, also exists in the context of a Republican Party whose last presidential nominee suggested that 47 percent of the American public are human leeches and parasites.

Their vote to cut food assistance programs (as well as the social safety net more broadly) exists in a bizarre political moment when the Republican Party is possessed by a radical and destructive ideology, one that is a mix of Ayn Randian fantasies, austerity and neoliberalism run amok, and libertarianism processed through the carnivalesque freak show performance and eliminationist shtick of Right-wing talk radio.

The Republican Party’s hatred of poor people overlaps with its use of white racial resentment and symbolic racism to win over white voters in the post civil rights era.

For decades, conservatism and racism have been political intimates in the United States. The Great Recession and the rise of austerity politics have facilitated a frightening union of those forces on the American Right.

With the introduction of the “Southern Strategy” during the Nixon era, and now spurred on by the election of the country’s first black president, The Tea Party GOP has been fully transformed into what is best described as a “Herrenvolk” political organization.

“Herrenvolk”--what literally means “the Master Race” or “chosen people”--is a description of a society where citizenship is tiered and hierarchical along lines of “race”. As such, the dominant group receives the full benefits of social services, transfer payments, and other supports from the State. The out-group, marked as the Other, is viewed as not deserving of such resources.

South Africa and Nazi Germany were Herrenvolk societies. The United States during its centuries-long slave regime, and then the many decades of Jim and Jane Crow, was also a society organized along similar principles of racialized citizenship.

In this arrangement, the poor and others among the out-group are stigmatized as “useless eaters” who should be separated from the body politic if some other use cannot be found for them.

I use this powerful phrase with great care. While originally used by the Nazis and the American eugenics movement to describe the handicapped, as well as the physically and mentally disabled, “useless eaters” can also be understood in the context of a Herrenvolk society to include those “surplus” people who are not “properly” contributing to society.

History echoes. For example, during the 2012 election (and through to the present) Republicans have used the language of “makers” and “takers” to describe their view of American society in which the former are “productive” citizens, and the latter are “drains” on society and “surplus” people.

The Republican Party demonstrates its Herrenvolk ethic in a number of other ways too.

Most importantly, the Republican Party’s Herrenvolk value system is enabled by its voting base where 95 percent of its voters in the 2012 presidential election were white.

The policies which result will almost by necessity serve “white” political interests, however perceived or defined by the Republican leadership and its media apparatus. This claim is buttressed by Eric Knowles of New York University whose recent research details how the Tea Party serves as a white identity organization for its members.

It is also important to call attention to how the Tea Party is both older and whiter than the nation as a whole. The country which they yearn for and “want to take back” is an appeal to the world of Jim and Jane Crow, unapologetic white male privilege, and where white people were subsidized and protected by the State at the expense of others.

As highlighted by Ira Katznelson’s essential book When Affirmative Action was White, the white middle class in the post-World War 2 era was a creation of the federal government. 

The VA and FHA home loan programs were not equally accessible by blacks and other people of color. The G.I. Bill, a stepping stone to education and middle class identity, was also practically limited for African-American veterans and other people of color.

Those and other similar programs made the white American middle class and constituted one of the single greatest moments of wealth creation in the history of the United States. Such policies were examples of racially tiered citizenship in practice as day-to-day government policy.

Herrenvolk America is the dreamland and formative political and social experience that the Tea Party, as the beating heart of the Republican Party, yearns to create.

In chasing the dream of a conservative political Whiteopia, the Republican Party has also succeeded in rolling back the voting rights of racial minorities, young people, the elderly, and the poor across the country.

It also uses the racially incendiary language of “secession” and “nullification” that is drawn directly from the American Civil War and the “States Rights” movement.

This is a practical embrace of the white supremacist politics of Jim and Jane Crow, the neo Confederacy, and a rejection of the victories of the Civil Rights Movement.

The faux populist language of “real Americans” deployed by Sarah Palin for example, is a clear signal to a sense of “us” and “them”, a divide that cannot neatly be separated from a sense of a shared racial identity on the part of the speaker and its intended audience where to be “American” is to be “white”.

Birtherism is predicated on racial bigotry and the idea that for many white Americans a black man is de facto not a “real” citizen. Thus, Barack Obama is symbolically unfit to be President of the United.

The use of coded and overt racial appeals by Republicans to attack President Barack Obama is further evidence of how white racial resentment has triumphed as a type of common sense language for the Right in this political moment.

All white people do not benefit from being members of a Herrenvolk society in the same way. Anticipating this arrangement, activist and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois famously described white skin privilege as a type of “psychological wage” that does not always translate into equal material gains or rewards for its owners. In many cases, Whiteness and white racism actually hurt white people.

Thus, the following puzzle: the Republican Party is cutting food stamps under the cover of punishing the black and brown poor; in reality, white people in the heart of Red State America will be hurt the most by such a policy.

In the Tea Party GOP’s dream of Herrenvolk America all white people are equal—and borrowing from the Orwell’s classic book Animal Farm—but some white people are more equal than others.

The Republican Party has voted to kill the “useless eaters” by cutting food assistance programs. But, data on food stamp use from the USDA suggests that such a policy will cause great pain to Republican voters.

How do we reconcile this contradiction?

Ultimately, populist conservatives and the Tea Party base are so drunk on white identity politics that they are unable to realize that the plutocrats and the 1 percent have just as much disdain for them, regardless of their common racial identity and skin color, as they do the black and brown poor.

Class trumps race.  Unfortunately, the common good is betrayed again by how too many poor and working class white conservatives cling to white identity politics instead of seeking shared alliances of mutual interest, aid and support across the color line.

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