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AID FOR POOR BRINGS RAGE FROM READERS

During 30 years of writing this column I have received some choice insults. A woman in Grand Rapids, Mich., suggested I must have a terrible life "being black and stupid at the same time." A reader in Salt Lake City has written at least a dozen times to say that anyone of my low intelligence "doesn't deserve even token presence in our newspaper." Even my dead mother's virtue has been called into question a few times.

But I have never known a period in which readers have expressed so much political confusion in such rabid anger as they do now about the Republican-Democratic wars over such things as school breakfasts and lunches, the minimum wage, welfare reform and many other social programs.

I recently wrote a column expressing outrage at the efforts of Newt Gingrich and the GOP to wipe out the federal school lunch and breakfast programs and give block grants to the states, a step I said would leave a lot of poor children unable to learn when "their bellies beat on their backbones."

That brought me a letter of intense anger from Charles E. Perry of Northville, Mich., in which he called me "a liar," or "an unwitting dupe" of the Democrats.

"You have adopted the tactics of Josef Goebbels, by telling the big lie so often and so loud that the public comes to believe it," Perry added.

He is furious that I did not say, as he believes, that the Republican proposal "calls for a 4.5 percent increase in the money spent on school lunches."

I invite my critic to look at Page A18 of Wednesday's (March 22) Wall Street Journal, which runs a table from the Congressional Budget Office showing that under current law spending on child nutrition programs over the next five years would total $56.3 billion; under the Republican plan it would fall to $44.6 billion. That is more than a 20 percent drop.

Given the indisputable facts, Mr. Perry might at least pause to reconsider who is being "duped."

The truth is that the Republicans do not plan to spend more than is now the case on any program I know of that goes to meet basic human needs, whether it is for family support, food stamps, Medicaid or foster care and adoption.

But I doubt that any facts will mute the anger of Mr. Perry. He wound up by telling me that he and his wife favor repealing the minimum wage "because the government has no business interfering in what is, essentially, a private contract between employer and employee. Put that in your liberal pipe and smoke it!"

Clearly, the country now wallows in mean-spirited arguments that go back to the days of Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt. When there's no Depression, it is especially depressing.

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