Chris Wallace had Ted Kennedy cornered. The Fox News Sunday host displayed Kennedy's 1995 bitter condemnation of welfare reform: "legislative child abuse . . . let them eat cake." As Wallace began to reference the statement, Kennedy blustered "this is 2006" - as if his past misjudgments are irrelevant though he palpably has learned nothing from them.
Wallace made the point that, contrary to Kennedy's dire predictions, the employment rate among unmarried women has soared and the child poverty rate has dropped. He put it to Kennedy: "hasn't welfare reform worked?" Fighting back, the senior senator from Massachusetts claimed that Wallace's numbers on child poverty "are absolutely wrong," asserting there has been an increase in the number of children living in poverty in the United States. He then dropped this bomb:
"We have 36 million Americans that are going to bed hungry every night. 36 million Americans! And 12 million of those are children!"
View video of Kennedy's 36-million claim here.
Kennedy's Hobbesian portrait of an America in which more than 10% of people go to bed hungry every night is flatly false. According to the USDA, 13 million households, containing 36 million people, reported that at least one household member was food insecure in a recent year. “Food insecure” means that such households at some time during the year were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food for all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources."
Yet Kennedy counted every person who might have been "uncertain" of having enough money to get food - at any time during the year - as "going to bed hungry every night."
As has been widely noted, the major food-related problem for poor children isn't hunger - it's obesity.
Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation is an expert on these issues. Here's what he recently wrote on the subject:
"While hunger due to a lack of financial re-sources does occur in the United States, it is limited in scope and duration. According to the USDA, on a typical day, fewer than one American in 200 will experience hunger due to a lack of money to buy food."
In a country of 300 million, that means something less than 1.5 million people.
It's a shame Chris Wallace didn't have these facts handy. But one thing is clear: Kennedy's claim that 36 million go to bed hungry every night was nothing short of a . . . big, fat lie.
Contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org