Paul Ryan Lied About a Hungry Kid To Justify Killing School Lunch

During his Thursday speech at CPAC, the conserva-palooza, vice presidential also-ran Paul Ryan used a touching story about an undernourished child to argue why free or reduced-priced school lunches were a bad thing. Touching, but false. And he continues to perpetuate the falsehood.

Washington Post factchecker Glenn Kessler systematically laid out the lie in Ryan's account, which was first reported by Wonkette. Here's what the conservative Wisconsin congressman said yesterday:

The left is making a big mistake here. What they're offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. The American people want more than that. This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my buddy, Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn't want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.

Kessler found it such a compelling anecdote—noting that the conservative National Review, a sponsor of CPAC, trumpeted the yarn on its blogs—that he wanted to learn more about the young boy.

What Kessler found was that that Anderson and Ryan had not only spun a bullshit tale around the boy, but had used his story to argue against what he wants: an approach to ending childhood hunger aided by government-funded programs.

Anderson's first on-record telling of the brown-paper-bag story came at a congressional committee hearing last summer run by—shocker!—Paul Ryan. The congressman asked her about improving the federal food stamp program, and she responded thusly:

My thought has always been around the SNAP program even when it was called "food stamps" is, why do you have this program, school program, school breakfast, school lunch, school dinner, when do we start asking parents to be responsible for their children?

You know, a little boy told me once that what was important to him is that he didn't want school lunch, he wanted a brown bag because the brown bag that he brought with his lunch in it meant that his mom cared about him. Just think what we have done. If this kid tells me a brown bag was more important than a free lunch, we've missed the whole notion of parents being there for their children because we've taken over that responsibility, and I think we need to be very careful about how we provide programs to families that don't undermine families' responsibilities.

[Let's just step aside for a moment to admire the the sheer inanity of the statement: "why do you have this program, school program, school breakfast, school lunch, school dinner, when do we start asking parents to be responsible for their children?" Actually, it's not inane: It's malignant. Why feed children? Because at the end of the day, who gives a shit about the parents, whether they're poor or not or neglectful or not, if their kid's hungry? Jesus wouldn't ask a hungry kid, "Where are you parents?" before sating the kid's hunger. Jesus might have a word with them after the kid's eaten. But eating would probably come first. Because, you know, Jesus.]

As Wonkette pointed out, Anderson's account wasn't from her own experiences. It was ripped from the pages of An Invisible Thread, a true story about "GIVING CHILDREN FREE FOOD AND HOW THAT IS THE BEST!" The anecdote—which occurred 25 years ago—involves a homeless child, Maurice, turning down not a government handout but an offer from a neighbor, Laura Schroff, to buy his lunch:

"Look, Maurice, I don't want you out there hungry on the nights I don't see you, so this is what we can do. I can either give you some money for the week–and you'll have to be really careful about how you spend it–or when you come over on Monday night we can go to the supermarket and I can buy all the things you like to eat and make you lunch for the week. I'll leave it with the doormen, and you can pick it up on the way to school."

Maurice looked at me and asked me a question.

"If you make me lunch," he said, "will you put it in a brown paper bag?"

I didn't really understand the question. "Do you want it in a brown paper bag?" I asked. "Or how would you prefer it?"

"Miss Laura," he said, "I don't want your money. I want my lunch in a brown paper bag."

"Okay, sure. But why do you want it in a bag?"

"Because when I see kids come to school with their lunch in a paper bag, that means someone cares about them. Miss Laura, can I please have my lunch in a paper bag?"

When WaPo confronted Anderson about the bogarted story, her communications person responded that she misspoke about an interview with Maurice she'd seen on TV:

What she had intended to say was the following:

"Once I heard someone say, 'what was important to him as a boy was that he didn't want school lunch, he wanted a brown bag because the brown bag that he brought with his lunch in it meant that his mom cared about him."

Ryan later played along with that account, saying in a Facebook post that he regrets "failing to verify the original source of the story."

What he doesn't seem to regret, however, is the fact that in stealing Maurice's story, he and Anderson used it to shit on everything he stands for today. They divorced it from the kindness he received and accepted. Their honesty problem isn't about attribution; it's about exploitation.

The Post also points out that Maurice and his onetime benefactor, Laura Schroff, "are partnering with a group called No Kid Hungry to help end childhood hunger in the United States. One key part of the program is connecting hungry kids with federal programs such as school lunches and food stamps."

For feeding hungry kids, against feeding hungry kids, what the hell is the difference? The important thing is: He wanted a brown paper bag. Vote Republican!

[Photo credit: AP]

This post was updated to clarify that Wonkette first reported Ryan's and Anderson's bogarted anecdote, based on a tip from a TPM commenter.