September 5 2012
Nobody can doubt the courage of Tammy Duckworth, candidate for Illinois’ eighth congressional district, who was grievously wounded in Iraq, and who spoke last night at the Democratic convention. But her speech deserves comment.
In describing her family’s economic situation when she was in her teens, Ms. Duckworth recalled:
My 55-year-old dad tried to find work. But at 15, I was the only one with a job—after school, for minimum wage. Thank God for the food stamps, public education and Pell grants that helped me finish high school and college.
Ms. Duckworth’s praise of food stamps came four days after Friday’s announcement that there are now 46,670,373 Americans receiving food stamps. This is a higher number than ever, with an annual cost of $71.8 billion and $770 billion over a decade.
I’ll take Ms. Duckworth’s word that her family needed food stamps to get past a difficult time. But, as a nation on the brink of financial disaster, we need to think about what it means to have so many people receiving government assistance today. The Wall Street Journal comments on the new food stamp numbers:
Mull over that one for a minute. That's nearly one of out every seven people—46 million citizens—who depend on taxpayers to buy one of life's most basic responsibilities. It's a good thing breathing air is free.
This isn't to run down the poor, or those hurt by the recession that Mr. Obama didn't cause or the recovery that he has done so much to enfeeble. Safety-net benefits and enrollment are supposed to expand or contract with the economy. But under this President there's been no contraction, even though the recession ended three years ago.
Ignoring the rise in dependency, Ms. Duckworth framed her family’s use of food stamps within the context of hard working people who just need a little help from the government. I notice that many of the speakers last night took pains to frame government dependency in similar terms. None seemed overly concerned about where the money for these benefits will be found or that more and more people are becoming dependent on government.
It is also easier now than it was when Ms. Duckworth was fifteen to obtain food stamps. Democratic policies have made this expansion of the food stamp rolls possible. The Wall Street Journal notes:
But the supercharger was a 2008 bill out of the Pelosi Congress that goosed eligibility and rebranded the program as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to reduce the stigma of being on the dole. Then there was the 2009 stimulus, which expanded the program again.
I am glad that Ms. Duckworth is not ashamed of having been through hard times and that she went on to serve her country with honor. But she promoted dependency last night, and that is inexcusable. Nowhere did she acknowledge the destructiveness of long-term dependency. Indeed, the underlying theme of Ms. Duckworth’s speech might be summed up this way: I’ve been successful, but I didn’t build it. Oddly enough, I think I may be inclined to credit Ms. Duckworth for her achievements than she is.