Why Obama's 2nd Term Should Be All About Taking on MLK's Anti-Poverty Crusade
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And so, I think the question that we have to ask ourselves now is the same question Dr. King asked when he was alive. "Life’s most persistent and urgent question," said King, "is: What are you doing for others?" "Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?" And so, if we can’t make the world safe for his legacy by making poverty, the eradication of poverty a priority, then something is wrong with our commitment, our commitment to King’s legacy. And so, tonight we’re going to continue to do our small part to try to make poverty and its eradication a priority in the nation, here at George Washington University.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tavis, the past few months, all this emphasis in the media and in Congress on the fiscal cliff, but the little talk about the growing nature—the spread of poverty in America and how the reduction of many of these, quote, "entitlement programs" will lead to even greater poverty.
TAVIS SMILEY: Yeah. The president has been given high marks, as you know, by his supporters and by others, and the media certainly has declared him the winner in these January fiscal cliff negotiations. But, of course, you and Amy both know that we won’t really know how good this deal was in January until we get to March, when we get to the debt ceiling conversation and when these entitlement cuts are on the table. I’ve said many times before that budgets are moral documents. Budgets are moral documents. And when we get to this kind of debate in March about these entitlement cuts, then we’re going to see how good this deal in January allegedly was.
But something is wrong when your economic policy has you teetering on cliffs and bumping up against ceilings. That’s no way to run a country. It’s certainly no way to prioritize poverty. The bottom line is that President Obama ought to do two things, and he ought to do them quickly. Number one, he ought to give a major public policy address on the eradication of poverty. Here’s a guy who starts out as a community organizer, who speaks eloquently of Dr. King, who has a bust of Dr. King in the White House Oval Office, has—will be inaugurated on King’s holiday. What are we going to do about pushing our president to give a major public policy address on the eradication of poverty, number one? And number two, then to call and convene a White House Conference on the Eradication of Poverty, bring the experts together and create a national plan that can cut poverty in half in 10 years and eradicate it in 25. So, first, a major public policy address, and secondly, convening this conference to put together a national plan. We’re going to talk about that tonight and ask the public to help us engage the president on this issue by going to our website, AFutureWithoutPoverty.com, and signing the letter that we’re pushing out to the White House asking the president to do those very two things.
AMY GOODMAN: Tavis, yesterday President Obama convened a large gathering. Many of the people there were victims, the Newtown, Connecticut, mass killings that took place. Survivors were there, as well as other mass killings. President Obama had Joe Biden, the vice president, convene a commission to look at what should happen around the issue of gun violence, and they came out with their recommendations yesterday. Do you see this as a model for what you want to happen around poverty?
TAVIS SMILEY: Absolutely. And it ought to be clear, there’s a lot on the president’s plate. That’s what it means to be president, to try to manage the richest nation in the world, that ought not to have more and more people falling into poverty, a nation that ought not buy the argument that just because you want sensible gun control legislation, that somehow the Second Amendment is under attack. There’s a huge gap between repealing the Second Amendment and sensible gun laws. So I’m glad to see the president take this issue on, but it is the case that in his first term he received an F from the Brady Campaign on gun control legislation, an F. So, I think that we’re seeing now that he’s going to improve his grade on that, if he stiffens his spine and stands firm on these executive actions and, moreover and more importantly, the fight that he’s going to have to engage with Congress. So I’m glad to see him taking these steps.