At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, Paul Ryan told a touching anecdote of a poor boy who said he didn't want a free lunch at school, but a brown bag one, because "a kid who had a brown paper bag had someone who cared for him." Though Ryan presented this as a modern tale of government dependence and family decline — people don't want "comfort," Ryan said, but "dignity" — the author of the book the story appears to be cribbed from says she met the kid in 1986.
"You know, this reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson," Ryan said, referring to a member of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's cabinet. He continued:
"She once met a young boy from a very poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise, he didn't want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown paper bag, just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid who had a brown paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand."
But as a Talking Points Memo commenter noticed, the story appears to be cribbed from a 2011 book called An Invisible Thread. Author Laura Schroff says it's the story of her friendship with Maurice. Her website says, "We met on 56th street in Manhattan in 1986, when I was a 35-year-old single, successful ad sales executive, and he was an 11-year-old homeless panhandler." An except of the book:
Wonkette says, "Somebody Is Stealing Children To Put In Paul Ryan Speeches!" The Wire reached out to Anderson for comment; we'll update when we hear back. Update: Anderson tells The Washington Post that she saw an interview with Maurice Mazyck on TV, even though she'd previously told the story as if it happened to her. Her spokesman says she "misspoke."
Before he launched into the brown bag story, Ryan was talking about how Obamacare will "will discourage millions of people from working," causing the economy to shrink. (Maurice's circumstances in 1986, it's worth noting, were somewhat starker than having subsidized health insurance through Obamacare.)
Ryan's possibly stolen story spoke to a recurring theme at CPAC — people don't need a law to guarantee humane treatment, they just need compassion and understanding between two unregulated individuals. A few hours after Ryan spoke, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal reminded the audience that he was a "pre-existing condition" when his mom was pregnant with him. Jindal's father's insurance wouldn't cover the expenses of his birth. So Jindal's dad promised the doctor, "I’m going to pay you every month as much as I can’… And that’s exactly what they did." Jindal added, “No contracts. No paperwork. No government program. Just two guys in a hospital in Baton Rouge, shaking hands.” Whatever you think of the conclusions Jindal draws from this story, at least it's his own.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.