Thursday, February 25, 2021

Is COVID-19 a Vegetable?

Life is just getting too weird.

Today NPR's Morning Edition did a segment interviewing a Republican member of Congress, Nancy Mace, from South Carolina, to get her take on President Biden's $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill.  Is it a spoiler to say that she doesn't like it, claims it's too expensive and wasteful, "a $1.9 trillion spending spree"?  Most of her complaint was standard right-wing boilerplate, and not very coherent. The host, Rachel Martin, pushed back some, but she didn't seem to have a much better grasp on reality than Mace did.  It would be nice if they had, or would have, an interview with a Democrat or a leftish journalist who could answer Mace better, but that is of course inconceivable.

Anyway, here's where Mace got weird:

I'm a single working mom. And when we talk about wanting to lift people out of poverty, when we talk about wanting to put food on the table, the very - one of the very top things that should be a priority for the administration is to, perhaps, allow parents to send their kids to school, particularly those who are in poverty, because the best thing we can do for those children is to help them get educated. These are children who rely on public school for their food, oftentimes, for their meals throughout the day. And the second thing that we could be doing is encouraging and making sure that democratic states allow companies to carefully and safely reopen their businesses and to operate. We're seeing successes in, like, my home state where - of South Carolina, where the unemployment rate is hovering just over 4% right now because we've been very cautious, putting precautions and safety mechanisms in place in our businesses. But we're still open. We're being safe. But this package, 1% of it's going to vaccinations.

I've quoted this at some length, but bolded the weird part that makes me wonder about everything else she said.  By all means, yes, public schools are important not just for education but for meals and other non-academic services.  But as I remember, Republicans and right-wing Democrats have been attacking such services for a long time as welfare, spoiling the Poors and taking away their initiative, and besides, they and public education in general are just a liberal socialist Big Government spending spree that we can't afford.

For someone of my generation, the starting point was in 1980, when the Reagan administration tried to undermine school lunches by relabeling condiments as servings of vegetables.  That led to mockery in the press and even in Congress, and to a quick, if temporary, retreat: Reagan still cut $1.46 billion from the program. Later administrations continued to squeeze the programs financially, through the 1995 "Contract With America," the 2016 GOP doublethink "Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act" (which didn't pass, but it's the thought that counts), down to the Trump years.

So what is going through Nancy Mace's mind?  I couldn't tell from her rambling whether Biden's bill will actually interfere with schoolchildren getting meals; I know that schools where I live were giving free meals for pickup during the lockdown, which is as it should be.  I doubt Mace was speaking in good faith.  And it's a safe bet that when the dust finally clears, she'll be voting for the next Republican bill to cut funding for school meals, because we just can't afford them.