Surfing on the food stamp wave

As part of a report on the swelling ranks of Food Stamp Nation this weekend, Fox News introduced America to the amazing Jason Greenslate, who appears to have been constructed in a laboratory to shock a complacent nation into outrage over the blatant abuse of welfare benefits:

Meet the nearly 30-year-old surfer dude who refuses to even think about getting a job, preferring his carefree taxpayer-financed lifestyle of perpetual sloth and indulgence.  He’s a happy-g0-lucky beach bum with an EBT card, which he uses to purchase lobster and sushi, while openly taunting the taxpaying chumps who cover his bills.  “It’s free food,” he explains.  “It’s awesome.”

Needless to say, this guy is not what most people have in mind when they hear the sales pitch for our titanic food stamp program and its related welfare-state benefits.  The Left sprang quickly into action, with the kids at Media Matters dashing off a turgid post that seems designed to Jedi-mind-trick readers into forgetting that Greenslate exists, because it’s totally unfair to point a camera at him, or something:

Fox’s attempt to demonize food stamp recipients as a caricature of willful dependency ignores the fact that SNAP kept 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2011, many of whom are children or the elderly. Unlike Greenslate, the majority of these individuals relied on the program not because of laziness, but necessity.

Surely it would not have been difficult for Fox to find a realistic face of food stamp recipients, as 76% of SNAP households include a child, elderly person, or disabled American. This dishonest depiction of SNAP is the latest example of Fox’s longstanding tradition of maligning the poor.

Of course, the Media Matters steno pool accepts everything the government says about its own programs at face value, even though their track record for accurate reporting hasn’t been so great.  If you can handle the logic that pointing out the existence of people like Greenslate is unfair because only 24 percent of Food Stamp Nation is potentially like him, then you’ve mastered the Left’s panicky redefinition of “dishonesty.”  (As if the presence of a “child, elderly person, or disabled American” in a SNAP household completely legitimizes all of that household’s benefits, no questions asked!)

What’s the acceptable percentage of “laziness” from food stamp abusers?  And even leaving aside the most outrageous abuses – something liberals seem distinctly unwilling to do when any private industry is under consideration – why has the size of the food stamp program grown so rapidly over the past few years?  I guess we’re not supposed to ask questions like that, but it seems curious in retrospect that the streets of the 1980s and 1990s were not littered with the corpses of starvation victims.

The growth of food stamps is not entirely due to abuse; no one ever said it was. Contrary to Media Matters’ vein-popping outrage, Brett Baier of Fox News went out of his way not to make that assertion, even in this short segment of the hour-long report.  Pains are taken not to challenge the legitimacy of the entire SNAP program.

But what is going on here?  Why has America’s human capital degraded to the point where a staggering number of us rely on some form of federal food assistance, of which the SNAP program is only the most direct example?  Why are so many more unable to cope with life unless the government subsidizes them in countless other ways?  This seems like an important question to ask when a huge chunk of the American middle class is about to be made dependent on ObamaCare subsidies, the government went broke a long time ago, and a mountain of long-term entitlement liability yet hangs over our heads.

When benefits are not strictly limited and monitored, with applicants carefully screened and enrollment strictly temporary, the danger of dependency is very real.  The beach bum with an EBT card is an extreme character.  But just how extreme is he, and how many other people are responding – perhaps less cheerfully – to welfare-state incentives in ways that would anger the people who pay for those benefits?

Update: A further thought about critics of this segment, and the entire Fox report on food stamps… they’re essentially saying that it’s wrong to even mention the most egregious cases of abuse, because that unfairly prejudices the viewer against these government programs.  But the Left is all about using hard cases to make bad law.  The entire gun control debate is driven by carefully selecting the worst possible abusers to cast aspersions on the vast law-abiding body of gun owners.  The charge against this food-stamp report seems to be that only liberals are allowed to make arguments with attention-grabbing anecdotes.

I’ve also heard it said that official statistics on food-stamp abuse paint it as a small percentage of the huge program, which still amounts to a lot of dollars lost.  But more to the point: would those official abuse statistics include the beach bum featured in this segment?  I doubt it.  He doesn’t seem to be in any trouble with the program administrators, and he displays no fear of losing his benefits after appearing on the titan of cable news.