Mona Charen, author of the truly fascinating Useful Idiots, has something to say about school lunch programs herself:
The president has asked for $87 billion to rebuild and solidify Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s a lot of money. But the federal government spends $65 billion annually on student loans to college students — enduring about a 40 percent default rate. We spend billions on hot lunches and breakfasts for schoolchildren, though the greatest health threat to the poor in America these days is not hunger but obesity.
Besides, why can’t poor children take their lunches to school in a brown bag, as my kids do? How much does a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple and a yogurt cost? Maybe $1.50. For a family receiving food stamps, it’s even less. So why subsidize the lunches for children whose families already receive food aid in the form of food stamps?
The answer is: A) the program makes its advocates feel virtuous, and B) the social workers who designed the program fear that poor parents are too incompetent to pack a proper lunch or serve a decent breakfast.
Well, clearly she’s oversimplifying. And no, I’m not going to debate the school lunch issue again, but bring up a side issue, which was mentioned several times on several blogs but not thoroughly addressed: illegitimacy as it relates to current views on government assistance programs.
There’re many levels of “poor,” which is itself a symbol of how high a standard of living we have in the U.S. There’s “working” poor, there’s “dirt” poor, and there’s “poor me, I wish I had that pair of Nikes.” With, of course, a million gradations in-between. The main complaints I’ve seen insofar as free school lunches are concerned relate mainly to the notion that poor doesn’t mean poor the way it used to, and the majority of people who take advantage of the free lunch program aren’t poor enough to deserve the charity (i.e. my tax money). That’s a very arguable point because we all have to admit that it’s pretty subjective (i.e. the Ick Factor).
From the fellow who’d insisted that the children who take advantage of the free school lunch program refer to him as “Daddy” to those of us who feel that human reproduction is itself a right that should be regulated by the state, there’s a general consensus that the shame of requiring government aid is a function of illegitimacy. That is, if the women would stop having babies that they can’t properly care for (i.e. keep their legs closed), then we’d all pay less in taxes. I’m guilty of generalizing “welfare moms” myself, but the difference is that I know I’m generalizing, guilty of the same oversimplification I accused Mona Charen of indulging in.
The causes of illegitimacy are Legion, far too numerous to be covered here. I think, however, that the “welfare moms” attitude has at its heart, two main issues. The first has to do with male responsibility and female consent. For a man, the sex act has only one possible physical consequence: the potential contraction of a social disease. All men have to do is plant the seed; it’s the woman’s field and furrow. An improperly socialized male can then feel free to plant as many seeds in as many fields as will have him, because the consequences for him are fairly small (made even smaller by the use of a condom). Women, on the other hand, do have to deal with the possibility that a child may result, which places a larger burden of consequence for the sex act. Questions of rape aside, the one with more to lose becomes the one who has the choice of consent. Hence, there’s a general feeling among men that the woman should/will/can “give it up;” i.e. give consent for sex. With that mindset, it’s not unusual therefore that many men would consider the consequence of sex (a baby) to be entirely within the woman’s sphere of responsibility. If she hadn’t opened her legs, no sex and no child. QED.
Which brings me to the second issue: abortion. Men who are not in favor of abortion are often told that they don’t know what they’re talking about; after all, they don’t have the babies, women do. Women have to go through the rigors of pregnancy and the agony of childbirth. “Keep your laws off my body,” they say. “It’s just a cell mass.” By taking this stance, it puts all the power in the woman’s position: if a man isn’t qualified to have an opinion about a particular issue, then he’s taken out of the picture. If the issue of abortion is wholly woman-centered, then women who, for whatever reason, don’t get abortions upon finding out that they’re pregnant, must want to have children. The man has no say. With that in mind, it’s then very easy for men to complain about welfare moms who can’t close their legs: the women have the choice to have sex or not, and then have a baby or not.
I understand that people make bad life-decisions that involve sex, marriage, child-raising, and career choice all the time. I also realize that any sexual relationship that doesn’t have rape as its main component is entirely a two-way street: yes, women can consent or not, but so can men. Men who indiscriminately have unprotected sex and refuse to deal with the consequences of it are at least as wrong and culpable as the women who insist on bearing children that they cannot care for. It sounds quite obvious on its face, but millions of men haven’t internalized it, and aren’t likely to. However, it’s fallacious to argue that abortion is entirely a woman’s issue. Moral concerns aside, society takes the hit when unwanted and uncared-for children are brought into it. Society is you and me and our respective wallets, among many other things.
Bottom line: government relief programs are simply another layer of a shit sandwich we all have to bite into occasionally. But blaming “welfare moms” for how much you have to eat is not simply an oversimplification, but the wrong focus.