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HUNGER REPORT BITES BUSH ON BUTT


Jim Hightower

At

the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta, I gave a podium-pounding speech in

which I characterized George Bush the Elder as "a man who was born on third

and thought he’d hit a triple."

Little

did I know then that the president’s namesake son, George W., would prove to be

even more lost in the ether of inherited wealth. I wouldn’t expect someone who

prepped both at Houston’s tony Kincaid Academy and at Phillips Academy in

Andover, someone who summered at the family’s ocean-front mansion at

Kennebunkport, someone whose family money and connections have paved his way

into Yale, into the oil business, into the governor’s mansion and, now, into the

money as Republican presidential frontrunner, to have any personal connection to

the world of poverty in our country. Still, I was stunned just before Christmas

to hear just how far removed Gov. Bush is from Planet Earth.

The

U.S. Department of Agriculture had released a report documenting the persistent

problem of hunger in America, giving a state-by-state listing of food shortages

and hunger problems-a report made all the more poignant by the fact that the

decade of the nineties has been widely and loudly hailed as a period of

unprecedented prosperity for the U.S. In the state listings, Texas was right up

there at the top, ranking Number Two in the percentage of its people

experiencing food shortages, malnutrition, and hunger. The report found that 13

percent of the 20 million people in our state are not getting enough food for

adequate nutrition, and that five percent (roughly a million folks) are getting

so little that they suffer the pain of hunger. This doesn’t mean that these

Texans are starving to death, but that families are so hard hit that they’re

having to skip meals, water-down cereal, and cut back so severely on nourishment

that they are suffering chronic malnutrition.

Such

reality is no small embarrassment to Bush, who is running for president on the

theme of "compassionate conservatism" and is bragging about his

performance as Texas governor. He claims credit for all the economic good that

has happened in our state during his tenure, so how to explain this bit of

economic unpleasantness?

By

denial that the problem exists. Instead of attacking hunger, he attacked the

report. Speaking to the media, Prince George got that rich boy smirk he can’t

seem to get off his face, and said: "I saw the report that children in

Texas are going hungry. Where?" he scoffed. "You’d think the governor

would have heard if there were pockets of hunger in Texas."

Wouldn’t

you, though! But hungry people don’t bring $1,000 checks to the governor’s

mansion, so they’re easily overlooked by this governor. If he truly gave a damn,

all he would have to do to locate hungry Texans is to visit any of the state’s

food pantries, both rural and urban, where there’s been nearly a 40 percent

increase in the number of families needing food assistance in the past year.

"Where can I get hold of Mr. Bush?" asked the head of the Community

Food Bank of Victoria. "I’d like him to come visit our food bank to see how

empty our shelves are right now. We’re scrounging for food." But the

scoffing governor needn’t even take a ride to find reality-there are two

charitable food kitchens within walking distance of the governor’s mansion. The

people going to these hunger centers are not druggies and derelicts, as he might

assume, but working families-food banks report that 60 percent of the people

coming in have jobs in the booming economy that Bush brags about-but their pay

is so low they’re not able to make rent, pay for transportation and other

essentials, and still afford adequate food.

But,

hey, says "the Bombastic Bushkin" (as his frat pals called him in his

partying days), this federal report is not about hunger, but about me! He

suggested to the media in New Hampshire that USDA had released the hunger data

just to embarrass him: "yeah, I was surprised that all of a sudden a report

floats out of Washington, DC as I am launching my campaign for president."

What

a self-centered and clueless brat! This is hardly the first time the problem has

been reported-there are at least eight reports in the past four years

documenting Texas hunger, including one by Texas A&M University that opens

with this stark finding: "Conservatively, hundreds of thousands of

people-and one out of every four children-in Texas can be classified as

hungry." But Mr. Compassionate has a sorry history of avoiding this

issue-in 1995, he vetoed a bill that would have created a state food security

council to study hunger in Texas and to help local officials deal with the

problem. Apparently, Bush doesn’t want to see, hear, or speak about the ugly

truth of hunger in our state-hurts his image.