There are few more divisive policy wars going on right now than the one over the nation's use of food stamps. And, as is the case with most political fights these days, the battle lines are quite clearly drawn between Republicans and Democrats.
On the blue side of the equation are those who want to keep the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, the new moniker for food stamps) going. They feel it's necessary for the poorer among us to get assistance in this still-struggling national economy. The red side, meanwhile, is full of calls that the program is a needless drain on the system. Which end of the spectrum us non-politicians fall on depends on a complex decision matrix that includes what we feel a government's responsibility is to its people is, how capable we feel government is, how capable we feel the people are, and simply how much compassion we have for the less fortunate among us.
Of course, the results of that complex decision matrix work in such a way that it doesn't allow the opinion-holders the ability to take seriously the other point-of-view. If you believe food stamps are a drain, how could people think otherwise? If you believe that it's our duty to help the less fortunate among us, what's wrong with those heartless red-staters? Which is to say, I can try to pretend that I'm some kind of non-biased judge without an opinion on this. But that certainly isn't the case.
When I read Paul Krugman in the New York Times calling the battle over food stamps an "ugly, destructive war" waged by the Republicans on America's poor, I nodded my head in firm agreement. We should be helping others. We should be expanding, not reducing, the program. And it'll take one explosive argument to the contrary to make me even consider changing my mind about it.
Enter: David Vitter, Republican Senator from the state of Louisiana, who played a wild card by introducing his unique plan to cut down on the use of food stamps: Ban them from those convicted of murder, pedophilia, and violent sexual assault.
What Vitter's doing here is one of the oldest moves in the political playbook. By coming out against murderers, pedophiles and violent sex offenders, he's putting anyone who disagrees with him on their side. Say he's wrong, and you're defending the rights of people who've committed the most egregious of sins in our society. Which is why, for a moment there, I felt that maybe he had a point. These people had their chance at being productive members of society, and they threw it away. Why should we use our tax dollars to help them?
Like I said, that point-of-view only knocked around in my brain for a moment. Really, all it took was the next paragraph in the article for me out of it:
"The amendment essentially says that rehabilitation doesn't matter and violates basic norms of criminal justice," Greenstein said. It means, he said, that "a man who was convicted of a single crime at age 19 who then reforms and is now elderly, poor, and raising grandchildren would be thrown off SNAP and his grandchildren's benefits would be cut."
And then I remembered that, unlike certain post-prison sentence penalties we hand out to those who have already done their time (i.e. keeping sex offenders away from schools, banning murderers from certain areas of employment), this goes beyond simple extensions of penalties. This is taking away someone's ability to eat. Of course we should allow everyone, no matter what crimes have been previously committed, the ability to eat. If not, then would it make sense to continue serving food in prison? Or not simply expand the realm of what crimes are deemed to be worthy of execution? Vitter's plan is a poor one that should be summarily dismissed.
But, as I said before, I'm predisposed to believe a certain thing when it comes to food stamps. Time to see if that point-of-view is reflected by those reading this: