Obama: Defeating poverty takes money and ‘transformative power’ of faith groups

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(RNS1-MAY12) President Obama appears at Georgetown University for a panel discussion on overcoming poverty co-sponsored by GeorgetownÕs Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and the National Association of Evangelicals. For use with RNS-OBAMA-POVERTY, transmitted May 12, 2015. RNS photo courtesy Georgetown University.

(RNS1-MAY12) President Obama appears at Georgetown University for a panel discussion on overcoming poverty co-sponsored by GeorgetownÕs Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and the National Association of Evangelicals. For use with RNS-OBAMA-POVERTY, transmitted May 12, 2015. RNS photo courtesy Georgetown University.

WASHINGTON (RNS) The African-American boy who grew up without a father, who started his work life as a community organizer on the payroll of a Catholic agency and who later became U.S. president had plenty to say about poverty in our “winner-take-all” economy.

President Obama spoke Tuesday (May 12) of “ladders of opportunity” once denied to blacks and now being dismantled for poor whites as their difficult lives get that much more difficult: “It’s hard being poor. It’s time-consuming. It’s stressful.”

Obama joined two policy voices from the left and right in a rare moment of participating in a panel discussion, part of a three-day symposium at Georgetown University on combating poverty. The audience of 700 included 120 Catholic and evangelical leaders.

Obama said he sees “the lucky and the successful” withdrawing from the shared spaces of American society, including schools and parks and other “common goods.” Meanwhile, the free market has “turbocharged” the divisions.

He shared the stage with Harvard public policy expert Robert Putnam, author of a searing look at the lives of poor youth in “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” and American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, author of “The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier and More Prosperous America.”

The idea for the symposium and the Tuesday panel was to address “purple problems” with solutions that could work in both red and blue states. It was co-sponsored by Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and the National Association of Evangelicals.

Although moderator E.J. Dionne pushed for specifics, asking the president what he would take to Congress, the discussion stayed chiefly on the underlying divisions of left and right politics.

Obama said that often the contentious arguments over whether and how to help the poor are thrown off by a Fox News-fueled vision of the poor as “sponges, leeches … lazy and undeserving. They find people who make me mad!”

Obama, who recently garnered private-sector support to expand his “My Brother’s Keeper” program for mentoring and developing young black men, addressed both the family and personal side of poverty, mentioning that he spoke about fatherhood, not “macroeconomics,” with men graduating from a historically black university.

“I make no apologies. I am a black man who grew up without a father and I know the costs I paid for that. And I knew I had the capacity to break that cycle. As a consequence, my daughters are better off.”

There’s no need to choose between promoting strong families and early childhood education and financial investment in public goods, the president said.

“I am all for values, I am all for character,” he said, “but when we get to actually spending money … it all breaks down. If we can’t ask from society’s lottery winners to make this investment, then this discussion is for show.”

Obama presented it as an imperative of Christian faith that religious groups “speak out on this in a more forceful fashion.” There is, he said, “a transformative power to be had here.”

Putnam took the charge for change directly to the audience, charging the listeners to step up in mentoring and working with schools to eliminate fees for extracurricular activities that cut the poor out of mentoring and coaching opportunities.

Brooks, speaking from the “center right,” drew applause with a similar plea to “stop the unnecessary holy war over policy differences.”

“We have a commitment to the teaching of the Savior,” Brooks said. Poor people “are not liabilities to manage; they are assets to develop. They are human capital.”

But Brooks added qualifiers to his vision of a truly viable social safety net: “It should be limited to the truly indigent, and it should always come with the dignifying power of work. Then we can have an interesting moral consensus and make some progress.”


  • Greg

    As usual, Obama is only 1/2 right. The problem with him is he is first and foremost a politician, and then a person of Faith, if and only if, it supports his politics. Do we need to help the poor? Absolutely! But are we to mire the poor into a life of poverty so as to give people like Obama automatic votes? Absolutely not. I know dozens of black couples who refuse to get married because the girlfriend gets “free” health care, and “free” baby care from the Government (Medicaid), and free tax credits–to the tune of a $10,000 dollar check–every spring, when these people haven’t paid a dime into the IRS. That is the reality we’ve entered into with the likes of Obama, and his usage of Christian charity when it’s convenient for him. This stuff is bizarre at the very least.

  • shawnie5

    “…and his usage of Christian charity when it’s convenient for him.”

    I commented about exactly that not too long ago…The only time the left wants to bring “religion” into the public forum is when there is a chance it might open some wallets. Where is Max screaming that the President is violating the Constitution by appealing to religion?

  • Greg

    I think Max is taking his nap right now. Shhhh.

  • bqrq

    My hope and prayer is that President Obama would finish his term in peace and stop using his high office to push gay marriage on our Nation’s children and young people. That’s a lot to hope for and I realize it probably won’t happen. However, it would be good if Obama would show some respect, reduce his emphasis on gay marriage, and focus on higher goals.

  • Barry the Baptist

    Beyond all of the emotional baggage, intellectual gymnastics, and equivocation that religion often brings to a discussion, I don’t think Max gives a fig what politicians say about religion, as long as they aren’t favoring any particular religious view over another or misrepresenting a particular creed.

  • shawnie5

    So you missed his reference to the transformative power of the Christian faith to fight poverty? Not the transformative power of Islam, Buddhism, atheism…?

    If that came from anyone other than the left’s darling this thread would have a hundred-plus screams of outrage already.

  • Larry

    I have trouble believing a word you just said.

    I have severe doubts you know any black people, let alone “dozens of couples”.

    I also have severe doubts you understand how public assistance works as well.

    So what is the great conservative solution? Right, they don’t have one.

    Let people starve and spread pestilence in the streets. All the while point fingers at them and claim poor people are somehow moral inferiors to you.

  • Greg1

    Larry I work, and have worked, with them. And believe me when I tell you, they have it down to a science.

  • Greg1

    And yes, to the second part of your answer, “tough love” is probably the best solution. The giveaway programs just haven’t worked; they have only become a trap, and a model for poverty. A life of work is always the best solution, second only to passionate Love for God. And I will reiterate, dissolve NAFTA, and industry will return to the USA, providing good paying jobs. The Republicans have still fail to see that, and are even now trying to give this president more power to destroy more jobs in the USA.

  • Larry

    Next will be, “some of my best friends are….” 🙂

  • Greg1

    I have to keep remembering that in the secular world, people lie compulsively, and are not taken at their word. If I were telling an untruth, I would have to bring it up at my next Confession. So, why would I want to do such a thing (God is watching).

  • @Shawnie,

    I’m right here.

    “We have a commitment to the teaching of the Savior,” Brooks said.

    If Obama had said this I would be outraged. But instead it was Brooks – a knucklehead.

    Obama is asking for the religious to define Christianity as public charity instead of what it always was: rich Christians holding poor people hostage over the supposedly unChristian immoral behavior which they claim made them poor in the first place!

    “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” (Proverbs 10:4)

    “I will also give you wealth, riches and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” (1 CHRONICLES 1:11-12)

    Obama is clever.
    In calling on republicans to be as generous as they are Christian, He looks virtuous.
    He knows it won’t happen. And that makes him look superior to them.

    Religion is a toy of the powerful.

  • @Shawnie:

    “So you missed his reference to the transformative power of the Christian faith”

    When a politician says ‘religion’ he is either pandering to the ignorant
    or he is himself ignorant. Obama is not ignorant. The Bushes are.

    Christianity is a coin toss. It means whatever you want it to mean.
    It has no central tenets.

  • “Transformative”

    He was implying the churches had work to do – not the government.
    But the fact that the churches will fail at this makes him look like he is taking the higher road. It is instinctive political pandering.

  • Shawnie5

    “If Obama had said this I would be outraged…”

    Nah, you’d have just spun it in some absurd manner (and to the tune of thousands of characters, no doubt) to allow you NOT to be outraged. This is your darling we’re talking about here, after all.

    “Obama is asking for the religious to define Christianity as public charity…”

    According to the kind of “separation of church and state” that you and your buddies profess, Obama has as much business demanding that the religious define Christianity in any particular way as the religious have demanding that government adopt this that or the other policy.

    But few things as much fun to watch as atheist hypocrisy. Carry on.

  • Okay, Larry, Atheist Max, Greg1 and Shawnie5, take it outside, please. Your infighting discourages other readers from venturing into the comment field. You are each welcome to post on stories ONCE with your comments relevant to the actual content of the article. Then step aside and let others — even folks with whom you disagree! — have their say. You’ve all had multiple whacks at this piece so take it outside and email each other if you’d like to keep it up.

  • Jack

    Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative is a definite step in a constructive direction, but his persistent zero-sum-game comments on wealth and poverty shows his lack of understanding of the subject.

    He is locked into a view of wealth and poverty which sees the economic pie as static, with economic redistribution as the logical answer.

    It’s a medieval and childish view that only pertains to land, which by definition is finite. It has no relevance to a modern economy and the only people who hold to it today are socialists — who are really medievalists in disguise.

  • Jack

    Larry, your comment shows you have spent next to no time thinking seriously about what to do on poverty. That’s a shame because the 20th century alone provided numerous lessons on how to succeed and how to fail in that arena.

  • Jack

    So Greg can’t win in LarryWorld:

    (1) Larry accuses Greg of not knowing any black people.

    (2) Greg answers that he does know black people.

    (3) Larry then accuses Greg of saying “some of my best friends are black people.”

    Yet another window into the “heads-I-win-tails-you-lose” mind of Larry.

  • Jack

    So in LarryWorld, there are only two logical responses to poverty:

    (1) Throw boat loads of government dollars in the general direction of poor people, or

    (2) Do absolutely nothing for the poor.

    Earth to Larry:

    Most sensible people know that neither approach is the right one.

    The third way is for government to stop competing with nonprofit grassroots poverty-fighting organizations operating on the front lines in poor neighborhoods, shut down gargantuan bureaucracies in Washington, and give the money saved to the neighborhood poverty fighters with the best long-term track records of actually getting people out of poverty rather than keeping them locked in, generation after generation.

    Let government get out of the business of being social service providers, let the grassroots nonprofits do it, and let the government fund the best of them.

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  • Barak Obama speaks as a follower of Mohammed has been taught. He either lies, or omits information in his message.

    When he speaks of money, he speaks of money – hard earned money generated by work. He wants to bleed those of us who are producers to give it to the parasites rather than create conditions where the poor can work – earn the money that they need, and thus become proud of themselves.

    When Obama speaks of faith groups, he intends that one faith group (Islam) will take precedent over others. Ergo, non-Moslems will give to the Moslems for them to control how that wealth is doled out.

    We must be reminded, that Obama is the chief prognosticator and spokesman of the Democrats, Islamists, Communists, and Socialists – the appropriate acronym being DICS.

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