JOPLIN, Mo. —
I recently participated in an online discussion about the government school lunch program. Some see it as a government giveaway that simply encourages dependency, while others see it as a necessary and affordable obligation to achieve an equal start for all children.
I am repelled and disgusted by any parent who does not give his or her children first priority in the hierarchy of their personal financial obligations.
Yet, we all know that in the real world that is not the case, that more often than not other things come first: cigarettes, liquor, cellphones, cable TV and lunches at McDonald’s instead of brown-bagging it, just to mention a few. This is reality, and it has always been so. As one example that is stuck in my head, when the draft was initiated in World War I, the U.S. Army found that the majority of draftees were unfamiliar with the concept of underwear. Civilization is not a natural path for human beings — it comes with difficulty and only when reason surmounts instinct.
If one believes in an ideological Randian world of smug self-reliance, it is easy to relegate beings to their own devices, but if one aspires to a country in which all people have a reasonably equal starting chance, then the government is the only option I see for doing that. I believe that we can afford to do it if we get our priorities right.
The Cold War is over and as a recent Globe editorial said, now that the Iraq War is over and the Afghan War is winding down, our military needs to be redefined and downsized appropriately. If that happens, a great amount of wealth can be redirected.
We can afford school lunches as well as take-home food for weekends. We can afford a health care system that provides preventive and basic care too — in fact a government system would be more than twice as cheap as the one we have, thus freeing up more wealth. We can afford an education system that educates without superstition. We can afford a world-class system of roads, bridges and infrastructure. We can afford energy independence through regulation. All this is possible if we can accept that we are one people and not a collection of warring tribes. But this is a new era, unlike any in the 20th century. For the first time in modern history there is no significant external threat to national sovereignty and without that kind of external threat we are dissolving into petty partisan bickering.
The question for this November, as I see it, is this: Shall we collectively build a foundation for the equality of all, or shall we abandon that goal and let nature take its course? The choice has never been more stark, and the electorate has never been more confused.
Jim Wheeler lives in Joplin.