Today, Luke Russert asserted that "the far-left approach" to food assistance in our country is coming from "...liberals who say, 'No, you've obviously seen these dire economic times we live in, people are dependent on these Food Stamps because they're actually in real need of sustenance, we absolutely can't cut them.'"
SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal program that helps feed the needy formerly known as Food Stamps (because it actually involved stamps), and today on MSNBC's Now with Alex Wagner, MSNBC's in-house "reporter" Luke Russert bestowed his greater beltway wisdom upon the viewing audience that in the United States of America, if you think it's a bad idea to make it harder for people in need to qualify for food assistance in the midst of a slow recovery out of the worst recession since the Great Depression, you're on the absolutist's edge of the political spectrum.
Here's the quote in full (video link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/...):
Alex Wagner: ...a Senate bill that passed with bipartisan support aims to trim 4.5 billion from [the] federal Food Stamp program, the House bill aims to trim a much more sizable amount which is 16.5 billion. Tell us a little bit about the political optics of this.Stop right there.
Luke Russert: ... (refers to many competing interests always fighting over agricultural legislation) ... However, 80% of the Farm Bill pertains to Food Stamps. They fall under the direction of the Agricultural Department. And here, you have a lot of conservatives on the right that have said, 'Look, these Food Stamp programs, they're too big, they're too bloated, they create a culture of dependency. We need to cut them and shrink them.' You all have a lot of liberals who say, 'No, you've obviously seen these dire economic times we live in, people are dependent on these Food Stamps because they're actually in real need of sustenance, we absolutely can't cut them.' So you have a far-right and far-left approach.
Does the idea of actually expanding eligibility for SNAP while there's still plenty of hunger in America to be concerned about simply not exist on the political spectrum as Luke Russert's Washington, D.C. insider ways have taught it to him? It's just slashing the program on one extreme, keeping it as-is on the other extreme, and in the middle...?
Luke Russert: Then you have this sort of moderate in the middle which says, 'Okay, you know what, perhaps this program is a little too big. We should trim it.'Did I mention I sometimes yell at the television?
So, according to Russert, making it harder to qualify for SNAP and taking food off the tables of millions of hungry Americans is the "far-right" position (so far, so good), keeping SNAP eligibility the same as it is today is somehow the "far-left" position (uh...say what?), and making it harder to qualify for SNAP and taking food off the tables of hundreds of thousands of hungry Americans (instead of millions) is supposed to be the "moderate" position, the reasonable center between two extremes (oh HELL no).
But the forcing of this political fight into the most convenient media narrative possible despite the context of the matter didn't end there, it continued as part of Luke's answer to Alex's next question.
Luke Russert: ... But it looks like right now, the House GOP leadership, in order to avoid a contentious floor fight ... (other reasons) ... are just going to not allow this bill to go to the floor and punt it. Essentially punting, what you'll have, [is] the status quo and then another extension, like we've seen so much in this Congress.Russert's brilliant beltway-insider insight considers failing to take SNAP away from hundreds of thousands of hungry Americans in need to be a punt extending the status quo.
Needless to say, "punt" has negative connotations in this context, implying that continuing current levels of SNAP eligibility rather than making it harder for people to qualify is an unfortunate outcome, the proverbial can kicked down the road that will still have to be dealt with at some point.
Of course there are many things Congress should be working on that they aren't that fit this too-perfectly-triangulated media narrative fairly accurately, from tax policy to comprehensive immigration reform, but are we really to believe that Congress not slashing food assistance for the needy during a period of high unemployment is a prime example of unfortunate congressional gridlock extending a distasteful status quo?
Like Russert, I'm lucky enough to have never had to worry about my parents being able to put food on the table. One reason I'm proud to be a Democrat is the idea that even though some kids out there aren't as lucky as I was, we take it upon ourselves as a society to help a lot of them, and that means a lot to me. Apparently it means less to Luke Russert.