It is a reproach to religion and government to suffer so much poverty and excess.
William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude
It was a great speech. It was delivered in San Antonio, Texas, at a Bush-Cheney reception on the day before Halloween.
President Bush said: "And to get the economy going again, I have twice led the United States Congress to pass historic tax relief for the American people. When Americans have more take-home pay to spend, to save or invest, the whole economy grows and people are more likely to find a job. So we're returning more money to the people to help them raise their families. ... With all these actions, this administration has laid the foundation for greater prosperity and more jobs across America so that every single one of our citizens can realize the American Dream."
He wasn't talking about the American Dream of being free from hunger. He wasn't talking about the American Dream of being employed. He was talking about rich people's dream of being free from taxes. Had he been talking about hunger or jobs he would have said it was too bad that so many Americans were still going hungry and unemployed at the same time we were spending $86 billion for people who live in Iraq. He probably didn't know his subjects were going hungry because the Department of Agriculture had not yet released its report. He didn't know lots of people were unemployed because no one had told him.
On Halloween the DOA reported that 12 million Americans were worried that they would be unable to buy food, and in 32 percent of those families some members of the family had had to go without food. This report marked the third consecutive year in which those numbers had increased. And the increase here comes the surprise came about even though the administration was able to reduce the tax on capital gains and on dividends. In other words, even though hungry people were only required to pay 15 percent tax on their dividends and, in some cases, only 10 percent on profits they made when they sold their stocks and bonds, they were still going hungry.
The U.S. Census Bureau said 7.5 percent of the population of the United States was concerned that it would not have enough money to buy food and 3.5 percent felt insecure and experienced hunger. The number of people suffering the pangs of hunger went up by 5 percent over 2001 and 8 percent over 2000. According to the Census Bureau, 34.6 million Americans lived in poverty in 2002. That was an increase of 1.7 million over the previous year.
Those statistics were released the day after Mr. Bush gave his speech. Had the results been released one day earlier, it would very likely not have affected the speech. That's because he wasn't talking about human beings. He was talking about economic growth. He was bragging about the fact that there had been a surge in economic growth during the third quarter of 2003. The economy expanded at a 7.2-percent annual rate at the same time the hungry were also expanding in numbers.
Talking to workers in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 30, Mr. Bush said: "The tax relief we passed is working." Commenting on the call by some Democrats for the tax cuts to be rolled back, Mr. Bush said: "Just as the economy is coming around, some over in Washington say now is the time to raise taxes. I strongly disagree. Tax relief put this nation on the right path, and I intend to keep America on the path to prosperity."
The hungry aren't the only ones unable to stay on the path. The jobless are another. Since Mr. Bush has been in office somewhere between 2.6 million and 3 million Americans have lost their jobs. Although that is tough on those who are jobless, it doesn't detract from the fact that the economy is robust. During the third quarter the country enjoyed 7.2-percent growth. As the White House explained when the figures on the growth came out, without the tax cuts "as many as 1.5 million additional Americans could have lost their jobs." Had that occurred there would have been 4.1 to 5 million new jobless in America.
The announcement on Nov. 7 of the creation of 126,000 new jobs in October was welcome, even though it was accompanied by news that there was a 27-percent increase from last year in the number of workers who could only find part-time work and that the jobless rate for blacks climbed three-tenths of a percentage point in October.
In addition to bragging about the economy while in Ohio, Mr. Bush raised $1.4 million for his re-election campaign. His aides said in San Antonio he expected to raise $1.2 million. It's nothing more than a coincidence that in that one day he raised as many new dollars for his re-election as there have been new jobless during his time in office.
When the president is upbeat, people feel better. The hungry poor are glad to learn that tax relief is working even though they remain hungry. The jobless are glad that tax relief is working even though they remain jobless. And the rest of us are glad to get our tax refunds thanks to the tax cuts.
Christopher Brauchli is a Boulder lawyer and and writes a weekly column for the Knight Ridder news service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2003, The Daily Camera