Yes, Republicans really believe in starving kids
What GOP states' cruel rejection of lunch for poor kids reveals about the right-wing brain. And how to fight it
This is a guest post from FrameLab contributor Jason Sattler. Jason is LOLGOP on Twitter and pretty much any other social media platform. His writing has appeared in USA TODAY, Wired.com, the New York Daily News and Alternet.
Why does Mississippi’s Governor Tate Reeves believe in welfare for rich former quarterbacks but not hungry kids?
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Reeves’ Republican allies in Mississippi bent over backwards to stuff taxpayer funds into Brett Favre’s jockstrap for vanity programs even the Hall of Fame quarterback struggles to to defend. Yet Governor Reeves recently announced that Mississippi will be one of 15 red states that refuses to participate in this summer’s federal free lunch program and is denying food to a total of 8 million kids. Why? Because he opposes “attempts to expand the welfare state.”
Especially if said attempts don’t specifically benefit Brett Favre.
So what’s behind this injustice? Ok, you know the simple yet correct answer.
Tate Reeves is a Republican.
Yes, the cruelty is the point. And, yes, the GOP’s rich funders want the government to do nothing but cut their taxes and let them pollute. And once you give a poor kid breakfast or lunch, they’re just going to get greedy and want dinner. What Republican wants to encourage that?
That’s all true. But there’s a deeper truth that’s key to understanding the right-wing worldview — one that requires you to activate empathy, a feeling that Tate Reeves might only experience after being visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve.
Tate Reeves thinks he’s being moral.
And so his supporters, which are still a majority in Mississippi despite Reeves turning in one of the worst re-election results for any Republican in a red state in recent memory.
To understand why Reeves thinks he’s helping these children dine on their own drool, you have to step out of your own world view, which is likely far more in line with the nurturant parent model described by Dr. Lakoff, and look at the book.
No, not the “Good Book.”
There, for every “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” you’ll find a “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”
The book I’m referring to is “Moral Politics,” published in 1996 by Dr.George Lakoff, where he laid out a fundamental understanding of how morality affects our politics:
The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline – physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world.
To your brain, favoring charity for millionaires like Brett Favre or Clarence Thomas over hungry kids is an abomination. To the right-wing mind, starving a poor child is disciplining a child — and the parent who Republicans think should be feeding the child.
In the strict-father mindset coddling of anyone — even starving kids — has costs that extend beyond any evidence by staining the moral fabric of society. Because hard-won success, of the sort they imagine they’ve won (despite the very real privileges that have lifted them up), is the only success that doesn’t upset the delicate order of the universe.
Does this sort of moral reasoning contain all sorts of bias that justify and incorporate racism, misogyny and classism? Absolutely.
But the way to discipline children — especially the children of others — is denying them food, books, love. That’s how you show them you care. And by doing so, the strict-father brain believes it is demonstrating morality.
That’s why shaming Tate Reeves will never really work.
It may garner you retweets, or whatever retweets are called now, and maybe help you spread your message to your choir. Which can be powerful, if you use your reach to spread messages that can work or help elect candidates who can defeat fiends like Reeves.
But it won’t change minds.
What might? Activating values that win over potentially persuadable people, whose minds don’t trigger dopamine floods at the thought of hungry poor kids learning to crave the sweet fruits of Social Darwinism.
In “Don’t Think of An Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame The Debate,” Dr. Lakoff lays out key nurturant family values, starting with:
If you want your child to be fulfilled in life, the child has to be free enough to do that. Therefore freedom is a value.
You do not have very much freedom if there is no opportunity or prosperity. Therefore opportunity and prosperity are progressive values.
Dig into the heart of what the agenda is here. When you call Republicans meanies or scrooges, they quite literally take it as a compliment. Because it shows they are big strong strict daddies.
That’s why it’s far more effective to change the debate to progressive values to reveal the real consequences of the right’s agenda. For instance:
Tate Reeves doesn’t want these kids to succeed. He doesn’t want them to have the same freedom as his kids enjoy. This isn’t just about punishing poor kids for being poor. It’s about taking away their opportunities.
Surely there are even better ways to do it. But we must at least understand that Republicans love offending our sense of morality. Because our outrage often drowns out our values.
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