Paul Ryan was at CPAC today, and he’s been getting a lot of attention for a story he told about a young man who didn’t want to get a free hot meal from the school but would rather have his parents pack him a brown bag lunch. “He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.” To Paul Ryan, we are depriving this boy of the dignity of his parents work. Or something.
There are a couple of things that really strike me about this story. First, when I was a kid, I was one of those kids with brown bags. And I really didn’t like it. I would much rather have gotten a hot lunch. It wasn’t about the love that my mother was supposedly giving me; it was about the taste of food. Mom was a fine cook, but there is only so much you can do with a sandwich. It got boring.
I also know kids. What this young man is probably getting at is the fact that his friends have brown bag lunches. He’s feels like the oddball, because he isn’t like them. He would feel the same if he were the one with the brown bag when all his friends got hot lunches. Of course, it could well be that this young man doesn’t have any parents close by. He might be a foster kid. Certainly the line “someone who cared for him” makes it sound like the kid is missing a whole lot more than lunch. Regardless: his complaint is not about the fact that he gets a state-paid lunch but that he isn’t getting one from mom. Even as it stands, the story does not say what Ryan claims it does.
But let’s think about this from a conservative perspective. A stay-at-home mom is one who can make a lunch all the time. Do you know who doesn’t have time to make lunch for the kid every night? A mother who works three minimum wage jobs just to get by. Most mothers who are on welfare are still required to go to welfare-to-work programs thanks to that icon of liberal beneficence Bill Clinton. Generally speaking, the problem with parents making their kids’ lunches is not lack of money; it’s lack of time. And conservatives (whether Republican or Democratic) want nothing so much as to force the poor to have no time for anything but work.
As we saw throughout the 2012 election, conservatives are all for the dignity of motherhood. As long as the mother in question is rich. Back then, Ann Romney was very upset when Hilary Rosen said that she had never had a job. How could she say that? Was motherhood not a job?! Well, as far as conservatives are concerned, it isn’t if you are poor. Paul Ryan has been especially clear about this. They need the “dignity of work.”
So if the little boy was asking for anything, it was that his parents be rich. Or that his mother at least be allowed to stay home and take care of her children. But conservatives don’t care about that. Least of all does Paul Ryan. He’s not for a guaranteed income. He’s not for raising the minimum wage. He’s not for decreasing welfare-to-work requirements. What he wants—what all conservatives want—is for the poor to just go away and not bother them anymore. Death is a poverty plan. I just wish conservatives would admit that that is the only one they support.