Government & Politics

An Impoverished Discussion About Poverty

Obama's tired bromides dominated a Georgetown panel on the poor.

Lewis Morris · May 15, 2015

Barack Obama was the featured speaker in a forum on poverty at Georgetown University this week, and, predictably, he clearly demonstrated his fractured socio-economic worldview. Georgetown, one of the most expensive universities in the country, settled nicely in one of the nation’s richest neighborhoods, seemed an ironic venue for this conversation, but it certainly set the tone for the day.

The Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty, which took place on Tuesday, was moderated by Washington Post columnist and Georgetown politics professor E.J. Dionne and also featured Harvard public policy professor Robert Putnam and American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, who was apparently brought on board as the token conservative. Brooks even joked, “I’m more outnumbered than [at] my Thanksgiving table in Seattle.”

On the surface, the forum was meant to be an open discussion about the causes of poverty in America, but it was really just an opportunity to further express the leftist worldview of victimization and class warfare. Obama’s remarks, Dionne’s sycophantic moderating and Putnam’s continued affirmation of failed statist policies were a perfect demonstration of how limousine liberals feign concern for the poor without actually making the hard choices necessary to effectively alleviate poverty.

Obama led the narrative by blaming the free-market system for allowing the wealthy to isolate themselves from the poor. “Those who are doing better and better — more skilled, more educated, luckier, having greater advantages — are withdrawing from the commons,” he complained, “commons” being his word for the unwashed masses. “Kids start going to private schools, kids start working out at private clubs instead of public parks, an anti-government ideology then disinvests from those common goods and those things that draw us together.”

Let’s leave aside for a moment his injection of the concept of luck, which he did frequently in his remarks, and focus on the isolation idea. According to Obama, there is not enough intermingling between the rich and the hoi polloi.

To hear Obama tell it, we should engage in a new era of busing rich kids to poor neighborhoods so they can be closer to the “unluckier” people. He points the finger at some vague anti-government mindset, even getting a laugh at one point about people who read Ayn Rand. But in reality, what he didn’t address is that the reason many people, and not just the rich, seek out private schools for their children is because the public school system is a shambles made worse by decades of failed leftist policies. Teachers unions put more care into employees than students, and education and infrastructure have suffered greatly because of it. As for public parks and venues, particularly in the urban areas of such Democrat strongholds as Baltimore, Ferguson and Chicago, these places can often become a haven for gangs and drugs, to which parents don’t want their kids exposed.

Obama went on to complain about “the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving.” Obama called out Fox News for supposedly always digging up these sorts of people to make a political point. “They will find folks to make me mad,” he said. As is his style, however, Obama doesn’t identify specifically who these people are; he is simply creating a straw man to accuse of something phony so he can look like the bigger man offering a better solution.

And Obama made sure to also place blame on House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, suggesting they were not paying attention to the issue. What good is any talk about poverty if you don’t blame evil Republicans, right? Brooks took a moment to rebut that tactic, though.

“[McConnell and Boehner] care a lot about this,” Brooks said. “And they care a lot about both culture and economics, and they care a lot about poverty. And, again, we have to be really careful not to impugn their motives, and impugning motives on the other side is the number one barrier against making progress.” Kudos for the courage to say that to Obama’s face.

Obama called for more investment in education and infrastructure to help solve the problem. Just how much more money needs to be spent? Since Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty more than 50 years ago, government has made $22 trillion in “investments” (read: income redistribution) to lift people out of poverty. Maybe it’s not about the money, but the deeper issue of taking from the haves because they don’t deserve to be so “lucky.”

“The top 25 hedge fund managers made more than all of the kindergarten teachers in the country,” Obama complained. “You pretty much have more than you’ll ever be able to use [and] your family will ever be able to use. There’s a fairness issue involved here. And if we can’t ask from society’s lottery winners to just make that modest investment, then really this conversation [on poverty] is for show.”

Well, it was for show, but not for that reason. The forum did not advance any ideas that leftists haven’t bitterly clung to for decades. They believe the rich got that way by luck, not hard work, and the poor got that way because of their race or their geographic location They say the poor are held down by people who vote Republican and watch Fox News. And yet leftists ignore that it’s their own policies and their own self-serving views that have perpetuated the problem.

Click here to show comments