It took a high school student asking President Reagan a question about hunger in America at a White House meeting to put the subject on page one.
Mr. Reagan replied: “I don’t believe that there is anyone going hungry in America simply by reason of denial or lack of ability to feed them; it is by people not knowing where or how to get this help.” This comment provoked a storm of criticism from a wide spectrum of public and expert opinion. The President was reminded that he closed down an outreach program in 1981 whose purpose was to help poor people and families surmount the bureaucratic hurdles and become eligible for food. Also pointed out was the shrinkage of these feeding programs relative to the need, especially among children, although not as small as Mr. Reagan’s past and current proposals to Congress would have made them.
Another question by another high school student at the White House meeting with the President elicited the reply that in the past five years the Soviet Union had out built the United States and the countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by “50 times” in such weaponry as fighter planes, bombers, tanks and ballistic missiles. This absurdly inaccurate statement must make taxpayers wonder what Mr. Reagan has done with the over one trillion dollars he has spent on defense in the past five years.
What was significant about this meeting with high school students is that these youngsters got more out of Mr. Reagan than the veteran White House reporters do in their infrequent news conferences on live television. Young people ask direct questions on important issues. Unlike reporters, they are not worried about being frozen out of The White House or transferred to another post.
If more Americans had an opportunity to ask questions of their President, instead of the current domination of whatever limited access is permitted by Mr. Reagan, much more of his candid views would reach the public.
You can bet that the Reagan government is more sensitive on the hunger and nutrition issues now than before that student stood up. So are the American people.
The Reagans were sufficiently embarrassed by the uproar to decide to meet the Hands Across America linkage at The White House. There they may have met one of the sponsors of this fundraising drive against hunger and homelessness in our country — the regional Coca-Cola Bottling Company. The company distributes a drink of no nutritional value and tries to encourage all youngsters to prefer coke to fruit juices, milk or even water.
Just another paradox is the endless public relations game that too often defines Washington, DC