One in seven of all Americans is now on food stamps, but that's not enough for the bureaucrats at the Department of Agriculture.
They're determined to increase that number, and to do that they must eliminate the "mountain pride" of certain Americans, who value personal responsibility and independence above all else, and get them on the government dole.
It's something like ethnic cleansing, or would be, if the feds mocked the pride and culture of any other ethnic group, whether in the mountains, valleys, flatlands or somewhere else.
By "mountain pride," they're talking about the descendants of the Scots-Irish settlers who pushed the frontier from the Atlantic Coast into the hills and mountains of Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama and the Carolinas, and later into the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas. These are the Americans that Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat and author of the much-acclaimed book, "Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America," calls "poor but proud and stubborn as hell."
They arrived on the continent desperately poor, as described by the historian Vernon Louis Parrington: "So armed with axes, their seed potatoes and the newly invented rifle, they plunged into the backwoods to become our great pioneering race. Scattered thinly through a long frontier, they constituted the outposts and buffer settlements of civilization. A vigorous breed, hardy, assertive, individualistic, thrifty, trained in the democracy of the Scottish kirk, they were the material out of which Jacksonian democracy was to be fashioned, the creators of that western type that in politics and industry became ultimately the American type."
Just the sort of material, you might say, to frustrate a community organizer with illusions of hauteur.
Nevertheless, community organizers don't quit easily. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, of the Agriculture Department gave "a Gold Award" recently to the local social workers in tiny Jefferson, N.C., between Husk and Deep Gap and not far from the Tennessee border, for bravely confronting "mountain pride" and increasing food-stamp participation in Ashe County by 10 percent.
"Hearing from the outreach worker that benefits could be used to purchase seeds and plants for their gardens turned out to be a very important strategy in counteracting what they described as 'mountain pride' and appealed to those who wished not to rely on others," SNAP explains. "Eventually, many accepted assistance from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program, and others, in some cases doubling a household's net income. In 1 year, SNAP participation increased over 10 percent."
There's enough alphabet soup there to feed a medium-sized multitude.
SNAP has put out a brochure it calls a "tool kit," which is shamelessly insensitive, since a tool kit suggests "work," and this goes athwart the pride of the dole, which the feds are attempting to substitute for pride in the mountains. A section of the tool kit called "Common SNAP Myths" tells how important the feds think it is to reach people who have "beliefs" and subscribe to "myths" that make them reluctant to live on relief with charity from strangers.
"Millions of low-income people are not accessing the nutrition benefits for which they qualify," the myth sheet explains. "To be effective, it is important that our national and local outreach counter myths ... among those who ... have beliefs that discourage them from enrolling." Food stamps, argue the food-stamp pimps, help local business and create jobs by pumping money into the local economy. The dole a job creator? Who knew?
The Daily Caller reports that the food-stamp agency has dispatched agents to overcome mountain pride with parties and games, and CNN reports that over the past four months, the agency has spent nearly $3 million on radio commercials soliciting Americans to sign up.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a Republican who represents thousands of constituents afflicted with mountain pride disease (as the feds might describe it), is particularly concerned that the Department of Agriculture focuses on trying to reform "culture" by eliminating long-held cultural beliefs, which are none of the government's business.
"I think it's a deep problem," he tells the Daily Caller, "when [federal] officials think it is their duty to overcome 'mountain pride' or the American sense of independence and individual responsibility."
Neither the senator or anyone else begrudges helping the hungry or helpless; indeed, it's a Christian's duty, as a Scots-Irishman would readily concede. But destroying the culture that tamed the frontier and shaped America will be beyond the power and ability of a messiah from Chicago.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
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