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A Thousand Points of Light

In 1988, Vice President George H.W. Bush delivered a speech at the Republican National

Convention that featured the phrase, “a thousand points of light.” Many people remember him saying that, it was a powerful moment in his less-than-impressive body of speeches, but I suspect very few of you actually know what he meant by it.

It seems innocuous enough—the Republican nominee was praising clubs and volunteer organizations. Sounds nice. Here is what you probably do not realize: “A thousand points of light” was an important plank in the Conservative agenda. It was Vice President Bush’s acknowledgement that he would be continuing the dismantling of the “Great Society” (LBJ had signed into law in the 1960’s) that Ronald Reagan had begun.

What does that mean? Well, many things but for this essay, let us focus on one very specific thing: hunger in America.

The Republicans hate big government. They tell you that all the time. From the biggest mouthpiece, Donald Trump, right down to your obnoxious neighbor—Conservatives and GOP claim to want the smallest government possible. And since they will never openly cut military expenditures (about 58% of discretionary spending in Trump’s most recent budget), they often attack expenditures on actual citizens. Remember, the military-industrial complex is a huge donor to the right. Single, middle-class people don’t contribute very much to candidates. (Neither do veterans, that’s how George W. Bush was able to slash the VA budget every year during OIF/OEF)

During the 1988 presidential campaign, George H.W. Bush wanted to ride the coattails of Reagan’s narrative. Americans perceived themselves as doing better than during the Carter years, even though much of that perception grew out of the skyrocketing credit economy. It is important to keep in mind that the 1980’s are often referred to as the “Me Generation.” A sense of greater purpose or community had been replaced by a sense of personal entitlement. It was easy to convince people in the middle-class that their lives were better because of the Republican policies. It was also easy to assign the missteps of the Carter administration and the global economic recession on poor people. It is always easier to scapegoat than make substantive changes. And that is exactly what the Republicans did in the 1980’s.

The Bush administration slashed important programs that helped feed needy Americans. The responsibility for the majority of supplemental nutrition programs for families, the elderly and the disabled was moved off the broad shoulders of the federal government and pawned it off to “clubs and volunteer organizations.”

That doesn’t seem so bad. Volunteer organizations are a great resource. A thousand points of light in the darkness. Okay, I suppose. There are billions and billions of points of light in the night sky, right? Yes, but there is only one point of light that makes Earth inhabitable. Without the sun, all those other points of light are useless to us. We don’t even exist without the sun. And all those billions of points of light—they shine at different levels.

Volunteer organizations are fantastic, and I mean that whole-heartedly. But they are all run by different people of differing capabilities with different levels of commitment. Often, (actually in the case of volunteer food banks-- more often than not) they are affiliated with religious organizations. These factors mean that the people most in need are affected by a number of differences in the help they receive from one group to the next. A particularly well-run food bank may be secular in nature—turning no one away. It might receive an excellent stream of private donations from local businesses, like food processors or grocery stores. It may offer a nutritious array of foods to their recipients.

But, if you find yourself in an area without a strong food bank or volunteer programs, your access to food could be extremely limited. Even if there were strong organizations in your area, if they were operating in conjunction with religious organizations, you might not feel comfortable visiting them. You might not even be aware of programs in your area, since the Republicans’ thousand points of light does not carry with it a requirement to publicize a program.

So, why bring this all up now? Because it is clearly evident that food banks and nutrition programs all across America are seeing record distribution to families and people in need. Since these organizations are run on a shoe-string budget and are required to plead for funding through Federal block grants, we are about to hit a big, ugly wall.

We all try to think of those in need during the Thanksgiving-New Year’s period. You can’t help but think of the needy then—there are commercials, campaigns, Santas in front of stores. But what is going to happen when these organizations, through no fault of their own, run out of money? The pandemic has not “magically disappeared” like Donald Trump promised. Even if it does miraculously vanish, record numbers of people are hungry right now and it is ridiculous to think that the normal impact of the holiday hunger will somehow be less this year than others. There won’t be money in the till for these organizations come November (or sooner).

It is interesting that Conservatives that express such reverence for “Christian values” are so interested in themselves and those like them but have little interest in helping the society they live in, at large. The same people that fly a flag on their trailer hitch (ironically a violation of the US Flag Code) and proclaim themselves patriots hate having “their money” spent on hungry countrymen.

Republicans love to bash socialism and liberalism. It is as though they have no concept of what a society is. The idea that you can pick and choose the things in a society you care to support is not citizenship. Damning someone to an imbalanced share just because they don’t go to your church or live near a good volunteer organization sounds pretty disgusting to any decent human being. So, why are Conservatives so quick to do this, anyway?

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