Nothing tickles the pleasure center of a Republican candidate’s brain quite like culture-war country music, the angrier the better, so it came as no surprise that while the first Republican presidential debate may have lacked the “800 pound gorilla” of Donald Trump, it was graced by a song that targets obese people eating snack food subsidized by tax dollars.

The tune in question is “Rich Men North of Richmond,” and for those who haven’t yet gotten a taste of the musical stylings of Oliver Anthony, “Rich Men” is a working man’s lament of low pay and high taxes and an indifferent federal establishment (those rich men north of Richmond may be a bit vague geographically, but the phrase clearly rhymes better than those “talking sons of Washington” or “the busy bees of D.C.”).

The song has recently vaulted to the top of the country music charts, and Anthony, a Virginian who was an unknown singer-songwriter until the piece caught fire, is having his 15 minutes, especially in the right-wing media. Much of the song is an angry diatribe about bureaucrats and how money doesn’t go as far as it once did because of them. That’s fair game. But obese people receiving help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program? That should stick in the audience’s collective craw.

“Well, God, if you’re 5-foot-3 and you’re 300 pounds, Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds,” the song says. We’re no physicians, but we’d say taxes aren’t the problem in that example, it’s the health of someone who is that overweight – man, woman or child.

The best response to all this we’ve heard on this subject so far comes from musician Billy Bragg in what he has described as his “answer song,” “Rich Men Earning North of a Million” (with its own hefty YouTube following). He favors union membership to raise wages and universal health care to help those of us dealing with unhealthy weight gain. “So we ain’t gonna punch down on those who need a bit of understanding and some solidarity. That ain’t right, friend,” Bragg warns.

Of all the stuff the government spends money on, helping people get a decent meal should be awfully low on the list of things to complain about. SNAP is a big program, all right, and it grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, costing the federal government of about $119.4 billion in the fiscal year 2022.

More than 40 million Americans benefit from SNAP, or about 12.5% of the population. They are individuals living within 130% of the poverty line, which, for a family of four, is just $2,313 in net monthly income. Recipients are often disabled, elderly or receiving other forms of aid. The average beneficiary is white and unemployed. Nondisabled recipients between the ages 16 and 59 have to seek work or enroll in job training in order to be eligible. They can use benefits for most forms of food – including snack food. And for many, that’s the most prevalent type of food availawhble.

Even Oliver Anthony has acknowledged on Instagram that many people of limited means are left only with the option of eating junk food, explaining that he meant to criticize how government likes to “throw money” at problems.

We agree that government programs are far from perfect. What would be music to our ears, however, would be to hear less criticism of those trapped in poverty and more support to help them overcome it.

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