With Michelle Bachmann not running for re-election, with Sarah Palin long out of politics, and with Allen West defeated, the Tea Party corporation wing of the Republican Party has been anxiously looking around for who can fill their shoes and go for the crazy. For my taste, Louie Gohmert (R-TX) has long been a heavy favorite.
On Thursday, he explained how people on food stamps use them for buying king crab legs. He bases this charge on a constituent who wrote to him about what he saw in front of him at a grocery store.
"He looks at the king crab legs [bought with food stamps] and looks at his ground meat and realizes because he does pay income tax, he doesn't get more back than he pays in. He is actually helping pay for the king crab legs when he can't pay for them for himself."
Now, there are two possibilities here: the story is absolutely true, or a total crock of lies.
To be generous for the sake of argument, let's say the former. Let's say the story is completely true. So, let's look at this story on the assumption, for the sake of argument, that it is actually, really true.
1) If someone is, indeed, actually, really, truly buying king crab legs with their food stamps, that doesn't even remotely mean that they are therefore living in some fantasized lap of luxury, and that champagne and brioches and caviar will follow. You can only spend what you have. If you have, say, $200 to spend, and you use $50 on crustaceans, that only leaves you with $150 for your other needs, no matter how you twist it into little knots. If you splurge on one item, it leaves you less to spend on your other needs. It's not like you get a special bonus "luxury" pass with food stamps. If you blow your food stamp money on a luxury, the only person you are hurting with less to spend on basics and necessities is yourself -- not the guy peeking at you in line at the grocery store, wasting his congressman's time and "our money." But how you spend your food stamp money it's your choice.
2) Surely Louie Gohmert and his mythical constituent aren't suggesting, no matter how upset they are, that the government should tell us what to buy with our money?! (And they reality is that once we get the food stamps placed in our hands, it is "our" money.)
3) For all Rep. Gohmert and his outraged constituent know there was a very special reason that king crab legs were bought. Maybe it was for a big celebration, like his parents' 50th anniversary. Maybe it was for Mother's Day, and it was his mom's very favorite food in the whole world, which she hadn't had in 20 years. Maybe he had a lead on a job that would get him off food stamps, and was trying to impress a prospective boss. (Job hunter experts say you should never come across like you need the job.) Maybe he was throwing a party for people who could help him find work . Maybe he was throwing a party to thank people who had found him work, and these were the last food stamps he would have to use. Or any other number of valid reasons. I have no idea. But then, neither does Louie Gohmert and his concerned constituent pal.
4) For all we know, the person buying king crab legs augmented the bill by also putting in some of his or her own money, and the king crab legs, in fact, were being paid with that.
5) A person using food stamps is actually still paying taxes -- gas tax, tax on purchases, payroll tax on their income, all manner of taxes, maybe even property tax. The only reason they're not paying "federal income tax" is because...they don't make enough income. That's why they're on food stamps.
6) We have no way of knowing if the whining constituent who' writing is paying income tax himself. All we know is that he says he does. Or, in truth, just that Louie Gohmert says he does. Not that it matters to most thinking-people, but Mr. Gohmert is trying to make it a valuable point. And we have no idea if it's true.
7) Food stamp eligibility is based on net income being at or below the poverty line. Poverty. P-o-v-e-r-t-y. If someone wants to spend their food stamps for whatever they want, for whatever reason, if it's just that they're feeling low and depressed and simply want to just cheer themselves up this one time with freaking king crab legs, it's their right.
The story is a crock.
Louie Gohmert, welcome to the podium. It's a fine tradition you are following.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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