Over the long weekend, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem reacted on Twitter to a post about a grocery-style food bank in a Texas school that seeks to reinforce the dignity of needy students and families by enabling them to shop with credits earned through good deeds and acts of service.
“There is no such thing as a free lunch,” Noem wrote, quoting conservative economist Milton Friedman, who used that line as the title of a 1975 book.
Noem has vocally opposed government handouts and the higher taxes that accompany them. She turned down a federal offer of a $400-a-week hike in jobless benefits last summer, saying her state did not need it. But she takes a different view of agricultural subsidies such as Friedman condemned in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom.
“An agricultural program intended to help impecunious farmers has become a national scandal that has wasted public funds, distorted the use of resources, riveted increasingly heavy controls on farmers, and withal has done little to help the impecunious farmer,” Friedman wrote.
Imagine what Friedman would have to say about the $4,288,571 Noem’s family-owned ranch received from a variety of programs at the United States Department of Agriculture between 1995 and 2020.
The 9,700-acre Racota Valley Ranch in Hamlin County was owned by her father until his death in an agricultural machinery accident in 1994. It then passed to Noem, her mother, and two brothers. She is said to have cashed out in 2017, but continues to live there with her husband and three children. She does not seem to have ever suggested that subsidies were anything but what is due ranchers.
Apparently, it is not a handout if it is being handed to a ranch, not even if it is $4,288,571—which is $4,288,571 more than the student-staffed grocery program at Linda Tutt High School in Sanger, Texas, cost taxpayers.
Charitable funds covered the $20,000 it took to set up the food bank, complete with shelves, three refrigerators, and initial stock. The same holds for the $10,000 a year to run it, to the benefit of the community as well as kids from kindergarten to 12th grade, a good number of whom have special needs as well as being economically disadvantaged.
To see Noem gratuitously criticize such a program for kids who are actually impecunious is a little like watching somebody kick a puppy.
The attack is all the more shocking because the program as conceived by Paul Juarez of the Christian nonprofit First Refuge Ministries in Sanger, overseen by high school principal Anthony Love and run by the students themselves, embodies and fosters American virtues. Hard work. Responsibility. Entrepreneurship. And what we most need in the ongoing pandemic.
“When we’re helping each other out, what that does is it makes us Americans,” Juarez said.
But Noem was not likely finding actual fault with the program itself. She was responding to a tweet by Nikki Haley, former U.N. ambassador and onetime South Carolina governor who appears to be positioning herself to run for president in 2024—just as Noem appears to be doing.
“A Texas school dist opened a free grocery store to help disadvantaged students. The student-run store allows students to “buy” essentials without money. ‘If we can make our food pantries look like a grocery store...we can keep dignity in people,” Haley tweeted with a link to a Today show segment on the grocery.
Noem’s icy-hearted response to Haley’s tweet came 10 days after both were featured speakers at the Republican National Committee winter meeting in Florida, the day after the storming of the Capitol building.
Haley’s reasoned remarks at the meeting made clear that she felt President Trump bore some of the blame for the attack, stating he “will be judged harshly by history.”
In her speech, Noem donned a rhetorical version of horse blinders, not on the subject of the Capitol but on the Senate run-off in Georgia won by Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff—“two people who embrace the pillars of socialism and communism,” she claimed.
As she turned to the future, Noem declared, “The Republican Party has to lead the nation away from borrowing our children’s future. We have to put an end to the accounting gimmicks we use to deceive people.”
Noem was telling her fellow Republicans that when it came to the general state of the party, the fault was not in Trump, but themselves. And without coming out and saying it, she was suggesting that she could guide them back to victory.
The day before, Noem had issued a statement that sought to hold Trump blameless for the attack. She declared with apparent seriousness that “the root cause of this problem” is “we must reform young Americans’ civic education.”
“Students should be taught our nation’s history and all that makes America unique,” she said. “They should see first-hand the importance of civic engagement.”
Never mind that there is no finer example of civic engagement, no truer example of actual American greatness than the grocery program. It is about as good a thing as our benighted nation has going at the moment.
Neither Juarez nor Love were aware of Noem’s Twitter attack when The Daily Beast spoke to them on Tuesday morning. Both seemed surprised. Juarez said he had a favorable opinion of Noem and figured she must be misinformed. He asked an assistant to put in a call to Noem’s office.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Juarez had not heard back. In an email to The Daily Beast, Noem’s spokesman said of the food bank, “Of course these people’s hearts are in the right place,” but added that “the response to Haley was to point out that lying to kids about the realities of the world isn’t giving them dignity.”
“Nothing that comes from government is free,” the spokesman said, even though the program was launched by a charitable organization, is not affiliated with the government and costs the kids and the taxpayers nothing.