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Tuesday, December 10

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One prominent theory about the etymology of the phrase "Indian Giver" is that it came from the common practice of Native Americans lending supplies to European settlers. The settlers would often assume that the Native Americans gave away these supplies as gifts and were shocked and appalled when the Native Americans would expect compensation or take back their supplies. From that point on, anyone who had the audacity to take back a gift would be dubbed an "Indian Giver." The settlers were perhaps a major influence on the current entitlement generation.

Although the origins of the phrase may be disputed, the label became adhered to the Native American stereotype. It was locked into the annals of ignorance much like the term "Gyp." The vast majority of Americans have never met a Romani (Gypsy) person, but they know that they must be up to no good since their name has become synonymous with cheating. Language is funny that way. It paints our perceptions far beyond the constraints of actual logic.

The term "free lunch," used in the cliché "there's no such things as a free lunch," also is the product of practices of America's past. In the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century in America, many saloons offered free lunches to patrons who kept a bar minimum. The comped food would bring in customers and the bar owner would rely on the fact that the overpriced spirits would offset the cost of the food. Since the patron effectively then paid for his food, there truly was no such thing as a free lunch. This gave birth to the "free lunch fiend," a man who would take advantage of this practice by convincing patrons to buy him a drink and devour the free food, or would simply steal from the gastrological largesse of the barkeep.

The two concepts became intertwined, and the term "free lunch" encompasses the lifestyle of the freeloader as well as the idea that nothing is truly free of cost. These terms have lost much of their historical value to become pejorative labels that apply to contemptible people and situations.

President George W. Bush will play the part of responsible saloon keeper by taking away the "free lunch" Congress promised children, workers and the sick when he vetoes the 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill just passed by the Senate. The bill that would restore the money cut from medical research and education is to be sent to the White House early this month. Bush has made no secret about his plan to veto the bill, as it will appropriate more money to these programs than he had promised to give. In the words of White House Press Secretary Dana Perino,

"In passing this bill, Democrats in Congress will say that the president doesn't care about children or education or health research. We've all heard these tired old lines before. The facts demonstrate the president's strong and consistent commitment to children, education and health research — and the American people are smart enough to know that there is no such thing as a free lunch."

Well played, Ms. Perino. She was able to use rhetoric to convey the idea that the Democrats are liars who underestimate the intelligence of the American populace and take advantage of this stupidity by overspending on programs at your expense.

Vilifying social programs through use of rhetoric is nothing new to the GOP. While running for president in 1976, Ronald Reagan was also able to vilify social programs through use of rhetoric. In discussing welfare, the Great Communicator relayed an anecdote about a woman he dubbed a "Welfare Queen." This woman had the audacity to cheat the government out of $150,000 in welfare funds by using 80 different aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards, and four fictional dead husbands. She even drove through her neighborhood in her "Welfare Cadillac" paid for with your tax dollars.

President Reagan was able to roll back a multitude of social programs by reintroducing this woman to the American people during his two-term tenure as commander-in-chief. The only thing he could have done to drum up more support for his cuts would be if he were able to snatch the free lunch right out of her mouth on national TV. He couldn't though, for the mere reason that she was fake. The closest anyone came to actually finding this woman was when the New York Times found a woman from Chicago with a very similar story. This woman was found guilty of defrauding the system of $8,000 (not $150,000). They could not verify ownership of a Cadillac.

The Queen's ransom was $8,000. That's a lot of free lunch, but nowhere near as many bologna sandwiches as $150,000 could buy. Which "Queens" will potentially benefit from the 2008 appropriations bill?

• $3.3 billion will be appropriated student financial aid — "Bob-Marley-tapestry-over-the-bed Queens."
• $1 billion to No Child Left Behind Programs — "Study Queens."
• $1.3 billion to the Health and Human Services Administration — "Underinsured Queens."
• $1 billion to the National Institute of Health — "Cancer Queens."
• $880 million will be appropriated for Low Income Home Energy Assistance — "Hypothermia Queens."
• $880 million for employment and training services — "Working Queens."

Twenty-nine Senate Republicans voted for the bill, and only 19 voted against it. Why would such a bill, providing access to programs that give away billions of free lunches, pass both the House and Senate with a sizeable amount of Republican support? It was strategic. It's a widely used tactic in Congress. Congressmen will often pass legislation that they don't like if they know that the president will veto the bill. Remember S-CHIP? It passed in Congress. Even 44 Republicans voted for it in the House. With a pen stroke, President Bush sent a clear message to the "Sick Kid Queens" — Hurry up and die!

Congressmen, however, want to keep their hands clean in such matters. They can't leave fingerprints across Graeme Frosts's throat. Unlike President Bush, they are up for reelection cyclically, so approval ratings are still a carrot to chase. They don't want to go back to their constituencies and have to fess up for taking away money from programs that benefit them and their children. Senators and Representatives can sleep well knowing that they did not kill these kids, it was a parliamentary tactic that did them in.

The GOP gave workers, children, and the sick a gift in the form of passing this appropriations bill. Their figurehead will most likely take this gift away through means of veto. If only there were a term used against someone who gives something away and instantly takes it back.

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Comments

Chef / November 7, 2007 3:20 PM

Have all of the "Revenge of the Second City" authors agreed to stop resopnding to the comment section...or just Ramsin.

It would be fun to comment on this article, but there is no point if the author will not reply to any posts.

See last weeks article.

Please advise.

Andrew / November 7, 2007 4:59 PM

Chef, Ramsin is out of town for most of November, which is why he didn't respond in the comments last week and why there's a guest columnist this week (and the next two, actually).

 

About the Author(s)

Kenzo Shibata is a full-time educator who moonlights as a graduate student of public policy at Northwestern University. He writes about education, labor, and prison policy. Most importantly, he's a North Side White Sox fan who won't stop believing. You can reach him at kenzo.shibata@gmail.com.

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