Monday, January 13, 2014

Georgia Congressman Kingston and hypocrisy

It's been a while since I posted, part of which I blame on being chair of my department these days.  But this video makes me want to post.  It makes me want to post for a lot of reasons.

First, I think this is good reporting.  Yes, it has a certain gimmicky flavor to it: "You don't like free lunches but you get them yourself!  Gotcha!"  But better than that, this report shines a light on the dealings that go on out of sight of the public for national politicians.  They spend thousands and thousands on lavish meals and get treated to lots more free.  Kingston doesn't want his constituents to know that.  It makes him look privileged, and that's quite different from what he wants to be seen as.

So what does he want to be seen as?  Well, I grew up white in the South myself, and I know race-baiting when I see it.  The coded message here is not anything to do with work ethic.  This message speaks to the resentments of middle class Southern whites who are constantly told by Republicans (and some Democrats) that their money is being taken by African Americans and Hispanics who are too lazy to work for themselves.  Never mind that the vast majority of the kids on free and reduced school meals have parents who work (and likely much harder than the Congressman).  Never mind that the middle-class white kids in the cafeteria didn't pay for their meals, either (their parents usually do).  No, we are meant to imagine a freeloading welfare queen's kid living it up on taxpayer-funded tater tots.

I personally hope that the Congressman isn't simply ignorant of the truth of the National School Lunch Program.  I think I prefer to believe he's being disingenuous, trying to curry favor with his resentful class of backers.  Surely he must know that the National School Lunch Program is named after a Senator from his own great state of Georgia, Richard B. Russell, one of the framers of the original legislation.  It was taken on by Russell and colleagues in the 1940s as a way to prop up Southern agriculture, which it still does.  Yes, that free lunch for kids is paying for the free lunches at a fair few agricultural industry corporate headquarters in Georgia.  Whenever they grow too many peanuts or pigs, rather than eating the losses in a financial sense, the surpluses gets taken off of their hands and sent to the mouths of hungry kids.

For shame, Congressman.  You're either uninformed, disingenuous, or miserly.  Rather than wrap it up in talk of trying to start a dialogue on work ethic, just get educated on why everyone took such offense at your statement.  And maybe hanging out in a school with their hungry kids would make you a better Congressman; after all, hanging out at your free swanky lunches with dignitaries and donors hasn't done the trick.


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