“Why We’re Fasting,” tops one column of the New York Times oped page today. Something about Lent? Nope, although there is a religious angle. In an odd alliance, Mark Bittman, the NYT‘s food critic, writes that he and Rev. David Beckmann of Bread for the World are on a temporary hunger strike to protest federal budget cuts aimed at food programs:
These supposedly deficit-reducing cuts — they’d barely make a dent — will quite literally cause more people to starve to death, go to bed hungry or live more miserably than are doing so now. And: The bill would increase defense spending.
… This is a moral issue; the budget is a moral document. We can take care of the deficit and rebuild our infrastructure and strengthen our safety net by reducing military spending and eliminating corporate subsidies and tax loopholes for the rich. Or we can sink further into debt and amoral individualism by demonizing and starving the poor. Which side are you on?
Bittman seems a tad uncomfortable in his alliance with progressive Christians, concluding that “If faith increases your motivation, that’s great, but I doubt God will intervene here.” But the clerics make a convincing case, as it turns out.
However blind their rhetoric about starvation may be to alternatives that don’t include state intervention — the $30 billion Gates Foundation might be a start — Bittman and his progressive Christian allies are right about one thing: increasing defense spending in a time of supposed austerity makes the GOP look ridiculous. As Jim Wallis told Time,
If this was really about fiscal responsibility, they’d go where the money was… Every day we’re spending more in Libya than everything we’d like to keep in the budget. That’s turning around the Biblical imperatives and beating your plowshares into swords. You’re not going to solve the deficit with these programs. This is just mean. This is not believing the government should help poor people as a principle.
Whether or not you agree that Biblical imperatives compel Big State intervention, Wallis is right to point to the hypocrisy in the GOP’s ideological attachment to high defense spending and the costs of military intervention abroad. Republicans should stop giving progressives red meat by supporting expensive interventions of one kind over another. Conservatives should step back and reconsider the impact of all interventions led by the state–and then we can have a reasonable discussion about the best way to feed the poor, both at home and abroad.