NYT's Krugman: Reagan Thought Hunger 'Was Nothing But a Big Joke'

In today's New York Times, Paul Krugman's commentary, "Conservatives Are Such Jokers," begins:

In 1960, John F. Kennedy, who had been shocked by the hunger he saw in West Virginia, made the fight against hunger a theme of his presidential campaign. After his election he created the modern food stamp program, which today helps millions of Americans get enough to eat.

But Ronald Reagan thought the issue of hunger in the world’s richest nation was nothing but a big joke. Here’s what Reagan said in his famous 1964 speech “A Time for Choosing,” which made him a national political figure: “We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet.”

Today’s leading conservatives are Reagan’s heirs.

Krugman could have noted that candidate Kennedy himself backed off from that estimate. In a September 28th speech during the 1960 presidential campaign, Kennedy responded to criticisms of his use of that number:
"They may not go to bed hungry every night, (emphasis added) but they don't go to bed very well fed and here is my source." He then cited a Republican senator and President Eisenhower's agriculture secretary. Interestingly, the secretary's statement was made in arguing against a food stamp program.

Days later at their second debate, Republican candidate Vice President Richard Nixon made a point of Kennedy's backtracking:
"I don't think it was helpful when he suggested - and I'm glad he's corrected this to an extent - that 17 million people go to bed hungry every night in the United States." For his part, Kennedy didn't dispute he had corrected his previous charge, going on to repeat the sources he'd used earlier.

Victor Lasky, in the heavily documented 1963 book "JFK: The Man & The Myth," dealt with the controversy:

But Kennedy's most dramatic claim - one he had to drop - was this: "The facts are that 17 million Americans go to bed hungry every night." And, naturally, it was all the Republicans' fault. "We'll admit the young Senator's figures are startling - but where did he get them?" the irreverent New York Daily News asked. "Did that amazing total include citizens on diets or ginmill patrons who plain forgot to order a sandwich?" Apparently Kennedy - or one of his ghost writers - seemed to have misunderstood a 1955 Agriculture Department study of the nation's eating habits. It found that many American families do indeed suffer from nutritional deficiencies. But again, while such deficiencies are most common in low-income groups, it was also found that between 13 and 17 percent of households with incomes of $10,000 and over suffer from various nutritional shortages.

The mainstream media just can't stop knocking conservatives in general and Ronald Reagan in particular. Whether their knocks have any merit or not is inconsequential. The important thing is to maintain their story line that conservatives are heartless because, unlike liberals, they don't believe in demonstrating their compassion with someone else's money.

New York Times John Kennedy