Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio: “We fought a war on poverty and won — until the 80’s came around”
posted at 11:16 am on November 1, 2013 by Guy Benson
It’s such a shame. I’ve been a big fan of Bravo’s award-winning series, Top Chef, since stumbling across season four, which was based in my then-hometown of Chicago. Head judge Tom Colicchio is one hell of a cook, and quickly became one of my favorite personalities on the show. But then Greg Hengler had to go and spoil the fun by alerting me to this:
Greg includes economist Dan Mitchell’s chart, which illustrates how US poverty rates were falling steadily until LBJ’s big-government “war on poverty” began:
Colicchio asserts that government programs basically had poverty licked until the 1980’s rolled around, at which point the “war” transformed into an ideological attack against the social safety net. Unsaid, but clearly implied: Reagan screwed everything up. Let’s review. Poverty rates spiked at the beginning of Reagan’s first term (he inherited a nasty economic situation), then they declined every year once the roaring Reagan recovery kicked in. You’ll notice that poverty jumped again when the next recession hit, which helped Bill Clinton get elected. After Clinton and the Republican Congress enacted historic welfare reforms in the mid-90’s — reforms that were angrily decried as “draconian” safety net cuts by people like Tom Colicchio, by the way — the percentage of Americans living in poverty plunged again to five-decade lows. That number plateaued during the George W. Bush years, and began to dip toward the end of his second term. Then the great recession happened. Poverty rates (understandably) kicked back up to ‘pre-war’ levels, and (less understandably) have remained high ever since. More than four years into President Obama’s recovery (the recession officially ended in June of 2009), roughly 15 percent of the US population is still living below the poverty line. This, despite the federal government spending more on food stamps than ever before, and after more than $800 billion walked out the door in the failed “stimulus” boondoggle. Colicchio’s prescription for these woes is “good programs.” I’d put good jobs way ahead of good programs on the solutions scale, but conservatives don’t oppose strong, sustainable safety net programs for the truly needy. So we agree. What I fear is that he conflates “good” with “big” — the Left’s fundamental and seemingly incurable category error. To wit, House Republicans’ recent attempt at enacting modest food stamp reforms have been met with outright hysteria among Democrats. Tell me, is this cruelty?
The Republican proposal simply ends waivers from SNAP’s traditional work requirements that were granted to states starting in 2010. Prior to 2009, able-bodied adult recipients between the ages of 18 and 50, without children, were required to work, participate in an employment and training program, or participate in a SNAP “workfare” program for at least 20 hours per week. Otherwise, they could collect SNAP benefits for only three months in a given 36 month period. That requirement was waived nationwide in 2009, and on a state-by-state basis after 2010. Currently, 44 states have such waivers
I’m not sure whether Colicchio has lent his voice to the reactionary chorus protesting these reasonable efforts, and frankly, I’d rather not know. I’m just disappointed that he would use his celebrity to advance lazy analysis — and that he’d choose to do so on a show hosted by one of the most malignant personalities on all of television. No, I’m not going to walk away from Top Chef or vow never to set foot in a Craft steakhouse ever again. Living an intensely partisan life is exhausting and limiting. But I’ll never quite view Colicchio the same way. Too bad he didn’t stick to kitchen wizardry and weekly commentaries on contestants’ “perfectly cooked” scallops.