“Say the word poor. Say it Mr. President. We want to hear you say it!”
That was talk show host Tavis Smiley this past weekend as he lead a Chicago “Poverty Tour” audience in a chant. The packed house gave him a standing ovation.
The “Poverty Tour” is billed on its website as Smiley and West “going on a road trip to highlight the plight of the poor people of all races, colors, and creeds so they will not be forgotten, ignored, or rendered invisible during this difficult and dangerous time of economic deprivation and political cowardice.” The bus tour is already being labeled as an ”>“anti-Obama tour” with pro-Obama protesters disrupting a stop in Detroit.
Tavis Smiley and Professor Cornel West have both bashed the president for the debt ceiling deal with Smiley saying, “I don’t understand how the president could agree to a deal that does not extend unemployment benefits, does not close a single corporate loophole and doesn’t raise the taxes on the rich,” said Smiley. “The poor are being rendered more and more invisible in this country. Nobody, not the president, not the Republicans in Congress, is speaking to the truth of the suffering of everyday people.”
Smiley appears to willfully ignore the existence of congressional Republicans who would have blocked any help for the unemployed by not compromising and nearly lead us straight to default.
Smiley and West’s tour has also revealed that they haven’t been paying close attention to President Obama’s own words. While they the claim that Obama won’t even say the word poor, Smiley and West seem to have missed President Obama’s prepared remarks on July 25th in the middle of the debt ceiling debate to The National Council of La Raza where he said, “Not only is it not fair if all of this is done on the backs of middle-class families and poor families, it doesn’t make sense. It may sound good to save a lot of money over the next five years, but not if we sacrifice our future for the next 50.”
President Obama then went on to say, “Are we a nation that asks only the middle class and the poor to bear the burden? After they’ve seen their jobs disappear and their incomes decline over a decade? Are we a people who break the promises we’ve made to seniors, or the disabled, and leave them to fend for themselves?”
Or perhaps they ignored President Obama’s prime-time address a few days earlier on July 22nd where he said about the lack of revenues in a possible debt ceiling deal, “if you don’t have revenues, the entire thing ends up being tilted on the backs of the poor and middle-class families.”
Also worth nothing is the fact that President Obama is set to embark on his very own jobs bus tour next week where he will push for, among other things, a pay roll tax cut which will certainly help the working class and poor families Smiley and West claim to care so deeply about. If Smiley and West really have the goal of raising awareness of the problem of poverty in America it sounds as if they are going about it exactly backwards. It is not an effective strategy to make claims that Obama hasn’t said something when a quick Google search proves you wrong in 30 seconds.
Are these attacks on the president in good faith or are they simply for self promotion at a time when both men are becoming less relevant as members of so-called black leadership?
Both men are outspoken critics of the president. Both have critiqued him in a way that reveals a level of personal disdain for the man. Smiley’s beef with Obama stems from him being “snubbed” at the 2008 State of the Black Union.
Professor West has famously called President Obama “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats” claiming he used to support Obama before he selected Lawrence Summers for the economic team and failed to get tickets to the inauguration.
Ironically, West’s description of Obama as a sellout to corporate interests could also apply to his buddy Tavis who continuously received sponsorship money from accused predatory lenders Wells Fargo as well as oil giant Exxon Mobil.
Essentially any validity to their overreaching critiques of the President Obama (and there is some validity to their criticism) are gift wrapped in a shiny object called personal shadiness and hypocrisy.
Outside of the events so far on the “Poverty Tour” there was not even any voter registration. President Obama once famously said, “we are the change that we seek.” In 2010, Republican voters came out in full force for their candidates and Democrats failed to counteract them. If Smiley and West wanted to be the voice for the poor and working class, then they need to be empowering them to act and not just highlighting the problem. At least the Congressional Black Caucus, who is on their own bus tour this week is not just asking for a jobs bill but proposing one.
A tour that only focuses on the problem of poverty is inadequate. If you want to get the public and the administration focused on the problem of poverty in order to fix it you need to offer viable solutions once everyone is paying attention.
Furthermore, any solutions you have must account for congressional opposition, instead of putting the blame squarely on President Obama who cannot rule by fiat. Without offering any solutions (or at the very least registering people to vote!) it’s a rehash of your history of Obama bashing. It is a bus with its wheels stuck in the mud and going nowhere.