Don’t feed the animals

State Rep. Mary Franson, R-Minn., captured the hearts of the conservative base recently when she said this:

“Last week, we worked on some welfare reform bills. And here, it’s kind of ironic, I’ll read you this little funny clip that we got from a friend. It says, ‘Isn’t it ironic that the food stamp program, part of the Department of Agriculture, is pleased to be distributing the greatest amount of food stamps ever. Meanwhile, the Park Service, also part of the Department of Agriculture, asks us to please not feed the animals, because the animals may grow dependent and not learn to take care of themselves.

The analogy went viral among conservatives, expressing some truth that eludes us unenlightened.

Both Franson’s comments and their reception by her adoring fans do express a truth, although maybe not the intended one.

Some of us believe that animals and humans are fundamentally different. We believe that people always strive to do better and seek self-reliance, until they reach the point of despair.

The tragedy is that we have developed an economy that leaves so many without hope. The rule of the game is that the winners must accumulate capital, yet the majority of Americans are blocked from doing so.

We have created a system in which post-secondary education is a near prerequisite for survival wages, yet we deny the capital needed to attend college.

We demand labor from the people at survival wages, and increasingly those wages come with no health insurance. Yet without capital or insurance, the only option is Medicaid. If shenanigans by unregulated tycoons on Wall Street cause them to lose their low-wage job, there is no savings account to cover food for them or their children. They depend on food stamps because we have begrudged them a wage that permits even minimal savings.

And even as they struggle to survive in a system that requires capital they can never obtain, we denigrate their failure. Indeed, we compare them to animals. With one facile analogy, we dismiss their hopes and dreams and humanity. We convince ourselves that by threatening them with starvation we will not only avoid dipping into our precious capital reserves on tax day, we will improve their lot.

They are not animals. They are human beings with aspirations that collide with a reality they did not shape. They are participants in an economic system that is crushing them. And with every generation, we crush them more.

Rather than recognize their humanity and seek compassionate solutions, Rep. Franson has dehumanized them. For Franson and her fans: Problem solved.

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Filed under Conservatism, Poverty, Welfare

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