TIS THE SEASON: But ask not, a columnist writes, who's deserving and who is not.

It’s a tale perfectly timed for Christmas, when people rouse themselves to drop a few alms in a Salvation Army bucket and warm themselves in the glow of the charitable impulse for 12 months until another bell rings for help for the year-round forgotten.

It’s from Timothy Egan of the New York Times, marveling at actions of the Republican-controlled House (where the likes of poor-punishing Rep. Tom Cotton is in the vanguard with exactly the kind of views Egan is writing about.) Are there deserving poor and undeserving poor? You’d think so listening to Tom Cotton. Writes Egan:


As the year ends, this argument is playing out in two of the most meanspirited actions left on the table by the least-productive Congress in modern history. The House, refuge of the shrunken-heart caucus, has passed a measure to eliminate food aid for four million Americans, starting next year. Many who would remain on the old food stamp program may have to pass a drug test to get their groceries. At the same time, Congress has let unemployment benefits expire for 1.3 million people, beginning just a few days after Christmas.

These actions have nothing to do with bringing federal spending into line, and everything to do with a view that poor people are morally inferior. Here’s a sample of this line of thought:

“The explosion of food stamps in this country is not just a fiscal issue for me,” said Representative Steve Southerland, Republican from Florida, chief crusader for cutting assistance to the poor. “This is a defining moral issue of our time.”

It would be a “disservice” to further extend unemployment assistance to those who’ve been out of work for some time, said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. It encourages them to sit at home and do nothing.

“People who are perfectly capable of working are buying things like beer,” said Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, on those getting food assistance in his state.

Rich and poor alike, Egan notes, drink beer, make moral slips and otherwise behave as human beings. Members of Congress on occasion use drugs, too, nobody is drug-testing them as a condition of getting THEIR paychecks. Nobody is drug-testing the wealthy farmers who receive enormous subsidies from the federal government (this one’s for you, Rep. Rick Crawford).

The next time Tom Cotton bloviates about a welfare queen in an SUV loading up on food stamp-purchased lobster and sirloin at the Fresh Market, remember Egan’s closing:


… the most careful lives can be derailed — by cancer, a huge medical bill, a freak slap of weather, a massive failure of the potato crop. Virtue cannot prevent a “bad hand” from being dealt. And making the poor out to be lazy, or dependent, or stupid, does not make them less poor. It only makes the person saying such a thing feel superior.

Happy holidays y’all.