Next month, PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West will begin a 15-city “Poverty Tour” to bring attention to what they say are President Obama’s failings with regard to the nation’s neediest. Starting Aug. 5, the two plan to visit soup kitchens, housing projects, farms, families and low-wage workers in the hope of creating momentum for large-scale job creation programs and put poverty on the 2012 election agenda, the Associated Press reports.
According to Smiley, “poor people have been rendered invisible” during the budget debate taking place on Capitol Hill and both Congress and Obama need to give them greater consideration.
"It's not just about the president," Smiley said. "Having said this, it would be nice to hear the president say the word 'poor.' To say the word 'poverty.' We get conversations about the middle class. Well, the new poor are the former middle class. But we can't get this president or any leaders to say the words 'poor' or 'poverty,' much less do anything about it."
It’s also not just about Black people, Smiley said, adding that "you can't ignore that Black people are catching the most hell in this recession."
West, who eagerly campaigned for Obama in 2008, is now an outspoken critic of the president, arguing that he has placed the needs of Wall Street and corporate America over poor and working class Americans.
"That's why I feel profoundly disappointed and in some sense betrayed," he told AP.
But critics of Smiley and West’s say their actions are personally motivated because the president hasn’t embraced them and their ideas as they’d hoped he would. In a New York Times Magazine article published Sunday, West admitted that part of his disappointment in Obama is indeed personal.
“I think he had to keep me at a distance. There’s no doubt that he didn’t want to be identified with a Black leftist,” West told the Times. “But we’re talking about one phone call, man. That’s all. One private phone call.”
In an NPR interview that aired Friday, when Obama was asked whether he feels a special responsibility to look out for African-Americans, he maintained his long-held stance that he’s the president of all Americans.
"I have a special responsibility to look out for the interests of every American," Obama said. "That's my job as president of the United States. I wake up every morning trying to promote the kind of policies that are going to make the biggest difference for the most number of people."
(Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)