GOP Desires Poor Children To Go Hungry. Compassionate Conservatism? My Foot!

There Was a Time When Ending Hunger Was a National Goal for Republicans and Democrats

“That hunger and malnutrition should persist in a land such as ours is embarrassing and intolerable.” So declared Richard Nixon in May 1969 in his now widely forgotten “Special Message to the Congress Recommending a Program to End Hunger in America.” In that document, he summoned the country to a new level of generosity and concern and laid out a series of strong legislative steps and executive actions, including a significant expansion of the food-stamps program.

While campaigning for the White House in 1968, Mr. Nixon did not focus on the existence of a serious hunger problem. His conversion came as public calls to do something about hunger rose — driven, in part, by Senator Robert Kennedy’s highly publicized trip to Mississippi in 1967 where he encountered nearly starving children and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s focus on hunger as part of the Poor People’s Campaign.

During the ’70s, another Republican leader, Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, forged a partnership with George McGovern, the South Dakota Democrat defeated by Mr. Nixon in 1972. They helped pass legislation to improve the accessibility and antifraud provisions of the food-stamps program. For example, it eliminated a requirement that recipients buy food-stamp coupons, a prohibitive burden for the lowest-income Americans.

That kind of dedicated bipartisan commitment to ending hunger was light-years ago in American politics — before President Ronald Reagan and, later, Speaker Newt Gingrich made attacking food stamps a prime Republican obsession, and certainly before moderate Republicans, a disappearing breed, lived in fear of making any move that might provoke a primary challenge from a Tea Party-supported candidate.

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