"What they're offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul."
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the man who wanted to be vice president of the United States, told a story about a child who didn't want a free school lunch. He wanted a lunch in a brown paper bag "because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him."
That story would be emotionally telling … if it were true.
Ryan heard the story from Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson at a 2013 Congressional hearing. The story Anderson told was actually based off a TV interview with the boy in the book, "An Invisible Thread."
Anderson inserted the school lunch program, not mentioned in the book, into the anecdote. And the story in the book is an executive who offers the child money to buy lunch for the week or to make a lunch for the child. The child chooses the brown paper bag lunch because that means "somebody cares" about him.
The representative from Wisconsin later regretted "failing to verify the original source of the story."
That was 1 of about 8 things Ryan did wrong: the most important thing was telling that story at CPAC knowing that the story was incorrect.
This implies that we are calling Rep. Ryan a liar. Yes, that is true. This speaks to an issue that we have had with some politicians, mostly conservative, on these topics.
Just because someone says something you like or falls in your comfort zone doesn't mean it's true. You have a responsibility to find out whether the third-hand story you are telling has a kernel of truth.
The false story that Rep. Paul Ryan told at CPAC literally has no truth to be found.
The damage has been done, of course, which is the point. If you like Ryan, you will believe the story he told, even if the "liberal press" told you otherwise. And someone in a conversation will overhear someone tell that story, as if it were true, and the story will spread.
I could write a column every day for a year filled with criticisms of the school lunch program. But not having a program would never be one of those criticisms.
Ryan spoke of a "full stomach and an empty soul," the one part of the story that came from him. The implication is that a "free lunch" hurts a child when accepted.
"Full stomach means a full brain" is a slogan we like a lot better. That "free education" the child receives goes a lot better when the stomach is full, making things easier for the child to learn. This is especially true when that school lunch is healthy.
Yes, a number of conservatives don't like the idea of a "free education," but "free lunch" is an easier target.
As adults, we can argue the issues of child poverty and the impact of smart children on a society. And we can even discuss the impact of healthy food for school children.
We need two ground rules for this to work: 1) children need to be protected from being literally in the argument (e.g., Salt Lake City taking school lunches from kids), and 2) we need to work from the truth.
Rep. Ryan and any other politician who wants to take on the school lunch program: we want you to be a part of the discussion, but only if you are willing to work with the truth.