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Discussion: 2008 World Food Prize Laureates Robert Dole & George McGovern

posted on October 17, 2008 at 3:01 PM

Each day, 800 million people in the world go hungry.  300 million are children. Two former U.S. Senators are credited with starting an international school feeding program that has helped children around the world get at least one meal a day. 


Yeager: With us now is Senators McGovern and Dole.  Neither one of you gentlemen are strangers to Iowa so welcome to The Iowa Journal.  Congratulations.  Let's go back a little bit to the 70s.  You two were leaders of opposing parties, both worked together to reform federal food stamp programs, you've got quite a resume here, expand domestic school lunch program, establish the special subtenant food program for women, infants and children, the WIC program.  All of that is in the Farm Bill, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.  Why was it put into the Farm Bill?

Dole: That's what we call a strategy.  We always barely get the Farm billpassed because that was when the  members could vote no one time.  With this marriage of food programs to the farm programs you get a much heavier vote.  

Yeager: It's much smarter politically, as you said, to pass it along.  Why not change the name of the bill then and put those programs?  Do you think that these programs, the women and children programs, would have passed without being attached to a farm bill?

McGovern: They might have.  They haven't had strong appeal all across the country but if you can also in the same bill come forward with one that helps farmers directly the price support system, the conservation program and so on, it's just good political strategy.

Dole: If it works why not use it?  We pass farm bills particularly in the House by one vote, the Senate was never much of a problem but you get in the House if you won by one or two votes and now you win by 50, 100.

Yeager: There was a lot of legislation in this current farm billthat was continuing some of your efforts.  Were you encouraged to see that some of those efforts were still being played on here domestically?

Dole: Well, in fact, Senator McGovern the newest one that he has worked on is the international hunger program and they actually added more money this year, it's going to be $180 million.  Yeah, there's bipartisan support for these programs.  I can't remember any big partisan debate on maybe they thought we were spending too much money.  Now, George and I were sometimes accused of having motives because farm states, we did this to help the farmers.  Well, I don't know about George but I never had a single farmer come to me and say, now, vote for the food stamp bill.  There wasn't any relationship.

McGovern: I think the international school lunch bill has a wonderful name, it's called the George McGovern-Robert Dole Food for Education and Nutrition.  How can you be against Dole and McGovern?  And how can you be against education and nutrition?  That is the name for this international school lunch program which is an effort ...

Dole: We've got a long way to go as far as the U.S. goes.  We've got to get some of the other countries involved because what are we feeing now, 9 million maybe?

McGovern: Roughly that.

Dole: Who knows who is counting but there are millions that need help, young children and mostly young girls who don't go to school, boys have the preference and if they're not at school they're going to be having children at ten, eleven years of age and you give them a chance to go to school and they're there. 

Yeager: Let's talk about that a little bit.  Why is it so important to have the girls as a part of this program?  We talk about the importance every year that the World Food Prize is discussed its importance of a well nourished meal and especially in children that is important.  Why? 

McGovern: Well, let me give you a couple of reasons why girls are especially important and important that they be educated.  They have the major burden in just about every society of rearing children so you're looking at the future generations in India, in China, in Japan, in every country when you educate the girls.  There's another very practical advantage in that we do it primarily because it's the humanitarian thing to do.  No little girl should have to go hungry.  No little girl should have to stay at home and survive illiteracy.  But these little girls that have no schooling, can't read a sentence, can't raise a sentence, they start getting married, as Senator Dole said, when they are ten, eleven, twelve years of age and have an average of six children, every one of those illiterate girls.  The ones that go to school even if it's just for the first six years they marry later, they have a better sense of what life is all about and what the opportunities might be for a girl that can read and can write.  They're not as easy for boys and men to push around.  And they have an average of 2.9, let's round it up to say they have an average of 3 children.  So, you cut in half the birth rate on the strength of elementary education.  I think that's a remarkable achievement.

Yeager: So, you're helping cut the number of people that would need food so you're able to spread that food apart.  You're also going to help rise up women to be a part of society and therefore helping that country to become a better country globally.  Did you anticipate that that would be part of this when you started?

Dole: You talk about equality, they don't have it in many of these countries.  Boys have a preference and Senator McGovern is exactly right and this is some of the work he did in Rome where you started looking at these things and I think you were surprised by the numbers you saw.

McGovern: Absolutely.

Dole: It's overwhelming, you can't believe it.  I don't know who is counting out there and who says 300 million or 290 million but there are millions and millions and millions and we're just scratching the surface.  But, again, it's another demonstration with a bipartisan bill in Congress.  It's now being worked on by Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Dole in the Senate and another McGovern, Jim McGovern in the House and a young member of Congress, I can't remember her name, from Missouri.  And so it's always been bipartisan.  I think once Senator McGovern took the lead he took the heat, some of us said he's running for office and this is another little gimmick here.  Well, I'm on with him and found out it wasn't a gimmick and I said, sign me up.

Yeager: So, he approached you first?

Dole: Oh no, we were both on the committee but I figured this is another little getting ready to run for something.  And that's the trouble, you know, when we even think that way how do you expect the average voter to think that way.  But I learned my lesson.  You don't make judgments until you know what the facts are.  And look what he's done, this one man has done for millions of people.  Now, after the World Food Prize the next thing on his resume ought to be the Nobel Prize.

McGovern: Now we're getting away from reality here.

Dole: No, it's true.

Yeager: But there is some opposition to some of these programs, not necessarily in this country, but there are people who say I've got cases of domestic hunger, I've got a kid who can't afford new tennis shoes let alone food to be in a physical education program.  How do you answer critics even in this country that the U.S. needs to take the lead in helping feed the world?

McGovern: Well, I think the benefits of a good school lunch program worldwide will surprise everybody.  The costs of not doing that are much greater.  If you've got a major part of your population who are illiterate you're not going to be as productive in terms of work habits, you're not going to be as intelligent in taking advantages of the economic opportunities you have.  One of the great things about the United States is that we have free universal public education.

Dole: And then Eisenhower said, others have said it a different way, the road to peace is through someone's stomach.  How can you expect these people who have nothing to eat and hardly anything to wear or a place to live to be happy and content?

Yeager: You talked about some of the people picking up the banner next whether it's the next generation of the same family but does it have to be the U.S. politically or does it have to be these larger companies, the Monsantos or Pioneers, these that are responsible for food, are they the ones that need to get involved in this?

McGovern: There are younger people coming on all the time including in the Congress, Jim McGovern not related to me, is carrying the ball on this issue and there's another Dole in the Senate, Elizabeth Dole.

Yeager: Right, but does it have to be politicians?

Dole: I should have the examples with me because I did some reading but our companies now begin to realize when they have overseas operations they have some obligations there.  Now, one thing we have to be careful of is that we don't interfere with the markets in these little countries, that we don't ship food in there and destroy the market for what little private sector they may have.  But we're not doing that -- $180 million is a lot of money and there are a lot of priorities but I think if you took a poll on this issue people would be willing to spend a lot more.

McGovern: There are a lot of people other than politicians involved in feeding the hungry and one of those is the churches, Church World Service, Catholic Relief, CARE, these private voluntary agencies are distributing enormous quantities of food abroad as they are in this country and they do it very skillfully.  So, there's an army of people out there and I noticed more and more young people coming forward that want to know how can I help end world hunger, how can I meet the needs of poor people in this country and I think there is a younger generation coming on many of whom are already open for soliciting in this program.

Yeager: So, take a moment to address those, how do you get someone who might be watching this at home who is in college, even in high school to say this is what any why you need to do this?

McGovern: Well, you need to do it first of all because it's a moral obligation on all of us who are in better condition than the impoverished of the world or the impoverished of our own society to help in any way we can.  Every religion including the Christian religion, Judaism, Buddhism, all these various major religious sects command their followers to feed the hungry.  When I was in the Food for Peace program in the Kennedy administration, as Senator Dole said, that was a program that started under President Eisenhower, anyway we stopped in Rome at the end of a mission and had a private meeting, there was six of us in this delegation, with the Pope, then it was Pope John the 23rd.  And he came bustling into the room, shook hands with everybody around there and I told him what a mission it had been.  He said, when you go to meet your maker and he asks, did you feed the hungry, you can say I did.  I'm not a Catholic but I loved hearing that.

Dole: You know, we'll go to church and in the closing remarks, always remember the poor.  Well, somebody remembered until they get out the door and then it's gone.  So, Senator McGovern and I are sort of a fading generation and we need to stimulate not just students but companies and others and thousands of people involved all over America volunteer.  So, in addition to what our program has done I don't know how many times you can multiply that ...

Yeager: Hard to measure some of those numbers.  Alright, I've only got a couple of minutes left so I can't let two guys who have run for president off the hook on this race that's going on right now.  First of all, have you been asked for any advice be either of the candidates in the race?  And if you have what did you tell them?  If not, what would you tell them?  I'll start with you Senator Dole.

Dole: Well, instead of being asked for advice I've given a little advice, not to say that John McCain has called me himself, but I'll talk to members of his staff and I'll talk to McCain himself about some things I thought might be helpful but I'm not really a part of the campaign and I'm just watching like everyone else.

Yeager: Any big advice or things you would throw out there, just one thing?

Dole: No, I'm more concerned about the race in North Carolina and I don't even go on TV programs because I might say something that would be misinterpreted by somebody in North Carolina that would impact what my wife is doing.  

Yeager: We'll let you off the hook on that one and I'll go to Senator McGovern now.  What advice would you have for the Obama campaign?

McGovern: Well, I have already talked with him about my advice and that is if he gets elected to give high priority to the international school lunch and the WIC program transferred to an international scale and he says he's sympathetic to that.  He didn't tell me how much he was going to ask but I got a pretty curt answer that he is in favor of what Senator Dole and I are trying to do.

Dole: Whoever is in has got to learn one lesson and that is Congress is different than the state legislature.  And you've got to wrap your arms around the members, the leaders in both parties and work together on it.  We've got real problems that have to be addressed.

Yeager: One problem has been the economy, we've seen consecutive days for consecutive weeks where there's been huge point drops.  Tonight you're the president and you're delivering the address at 8:00 to the nation.  In 30 seconds what do you say to the nation about this economy and what they should do to calm fears?

Dole: I'd probably say I've forgotten my script, I'll come back tomorrow evening.  No, when the market drops 100 points why did it happen?  I don't know and I'm not sure that anybody knows.  I talked with all of these people that are in in the corporate world and it's going to bottom out one of these days and people are going to start making money, they're going to start buying equities and making some money.  But odds are it was going to be today but it wasn't today.

Yeager: Senator McGovern, same question, what do you say to the nation in light of what has happened?

McGovern: I just say be cautious how you invest, be cautious how big that mortgage is that you may have to pay for the kind of house you'd really like to have and have one that's more than your means.  Those are a couple of things I think we've learned.  But I have yet to meet a human being that really knows exactly what to do about this crisis.  Have you found that Bob?

Dole: No, I think you touched on it, personal responsibility.  Some people, owning a house is the American dream, but some of them have to wait a while.

Yeager: I appreciate that, Senator Bob Dole, Senator George McGovern, congratulations on the World Food Prize, thank you very much. 

Tags: Bob Dole children hunger Iowa politics poverty World Food Prize


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