If it’s true that those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it, it is also true that those of us who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while those who didn’t repeat the follies of the past. That sad and desperate feeling washed over me like a tidal wave when I read about Todd Akin, the wingnut congressman who is challenging Claire McCaskill for Harry Truman’s old Senate seat, denouncing the federal school lunch program.
Many people are surprised to learn why we have had a federal school lunch program since 1946, let alone why it was one of the first pieces of legislation that Harry Truman signed into law after WW II. First of all, remember where Harry Truman came from – he was a Missouri farm boy who grew up to serve as an infantry Captain in WW I. He had agricultural roots, so he was painfully aware that crops had gone to waste during the depression because the market for their products had disappeared as money woes beset the country. He was also aware that a shocking number of young men who showed up to volunteer for WW II had been rejected for service because they were malnourished. Harry looked at the reality before him but he didn’t see two insurmountable problems. Instead, he saw a chance to kill two birds with one stone.
And so, the school lunch program was born. On the one hand, it supported farmers by guaranteeing them a market for a portion of their products, and on the other hand it would make American children healthier and better nourished.
For the record, it worked. Twenty years later, as the war in Vietnam ramped up, hardly anyone was rejected from service because they were malnourished.
It was that knowledge of where the school lunch program came from and why it was instituted in the first place that made Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comments on the school lunch program made at the state fair yesterday so damned infuriating.
Missouri’s two U.S. Senate candidates tangled Thursday over whether taxpayers should subsidize school lunches for more than 34 million students across the country.
U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican candidate, said he opposes federal spending for the National School Lunch Program, which provides cash and surplus food for nearly 650,000 school lunches in Missouri each day.
“Is it something the federal government should do?” Akin said. “I answer it no. … I think the federal government should be out of the education business.”
Akin made the statement outside the 60th annual Governor’s Ham Breakfast at the Missouri State Fair on the week many students are heading back to the classroom.
He is quick to add that he is in favor of school lunches, just not federally funded ones. That, he says, should be the responsibility of the cash-strapped states.
I’m sure that Missouri’s wingnut state lege would step right up and take that new responsibility seriously – shoot, they would even consider raising taxes to make sure the meals offered were nutritious and healthful!
What? You think I’m barking mad if I believe the wingnut-dominated state lege gives one hair on a rat’s furry ass about any child who is post-fetus?
Seriously, who can forget Cynthia “Hunger is a motivator“ Davis and her teahad against the summer lunch program that feeds children who get free or reduced-price school lunches during the summer months?
And now consider that the General Assembly is in wingnuttier hands now than it was two years ago when Cynthia Davis was running around embarrassing the entire state on the national stage. I’m sure that they would be all about getting on the stick and passing a better school lunch program than the one the feds have funded for 66 years that has helped three generations of American children avoid the ravages of malnutrition. The numbers are telling. One in five Missouri school children get their lunch at school either free or at a reduced cost. I also can’t help but hear the dog-whistle. “Those people” in the inner city get free lunch. It’s supposed to make the evangelical, elderly white base get fired up about the outrage of people of color in the cities. What he isn’t thinking about is the fact that the grandkids of the people who are supposed to be outraged about school lunches are receiving the benefits themselves, especially if their parents stayed in their rural communities where jobs are scarce and low-paying.
I would argue that not only is Akin wrong, but the school lunch program should get increased funding, fast food operators should be kicked out of schools and the quality and nutritional value would be increased. Harry Truman was never more right than the day he signed the school lunch legislation and observed at the time that “In the long view, no nation is healthier than its children, or more prosperous than its farmers.”
Harry was right about that when he said it, and he’s still right today – and neither our children nor our family farmers are doing that well today. It’s time we stemmed that tide and started spending some real money on kids and nutrition programs. I mean, someone is going to have to operate the weapons they keep buying. And more infuriating still is the fact that the argument I just offered sarcastically is the only one that would actually work.