“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.”
So goes the familiar proverb. It is one that has become deeply entrenched in our national ethos, and lately, the pithy maxim has found its way into our political discourse in a troubling way.
- Why raise taxes on the poor and middle class?
- Why repeal Obamacare?
- Why cut the tiny amount we spend on foreign aid?
- Why cut foodstamps?
- Why privatize Social Security?
- Why cut Pell Grants?
- Why repeal Dodd-Frank?
- Why eliminate the EPA?
- Why cut funding for teachers, firefighters, police officers, and librarians?
Because government handouts don’t help anyone.*
Government handouts, in the words of Republican Representative Allen West, are slavery.**
While I agree with the sentiment of the proverb at hand, I am cautious to avoid the trap of oversimplifying the great responsibilities embedded in our social contract. Very few will suggest that we do not owe the man in the proverb a lesson in proper fishing techniques, but I suggest that our obligations extend further:
1. We must ensure that the lake has not been overfished.
2. We must ensure that corporations have not polluted the lake and poisoned the fish.
3. We must ensure that the lake does not dry up as a result of manmade climate change.
4. We must ensure that the man can access the lake freely and without an overly burdensome or expensive commute.
5. We must ensure that the man has a means of ensuring his children are cared for and educated while he is fishing.
6. We must ensure that the man has access to markets in which he can sell his excess fish and organize with other fisherman in order to compete with big fishing corporations.
7. We must ensure that the man can save the revenue he earned from the fish market in a secure banking system and in a well-regulated and transparent stock market.
8. We must ensure that the man can afford health insurance so that he will receive care when he breaks his leg tripping over his fishing pole.
9. We must ensure that Big Fish lobbyists do not have undue influence in the halls of our legislators.
10. We must ensure that the man can afford to send his children to college so they can have a better, brighter future than their fisherman father.
As members of a free and prosperous society, we have a moral imperative to speak out on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves and in defense of those who have been mischaracterized by a party determined to “starve the beast” of our government. When Republicans promote policies that will hurt the poor and resort to the most extreme rhetoric to demonize those of us who believe in a government capable of lifting up rather than casting out the least well off among us, it is our duty to speak up, speak out, and cast our ballots in support of our friend, the lowly fisherman.
*Except the wealthy.
**Except for millionaires, billionaires, and wealthy corporations.