August 10, 2011; Source: Politic365 | Tavis Smiley and Cornel West are out on the road taking shots at President Obama, because, according to Smiley, Americans “are tired of seeing the Republicans clean his clock on every piece of legislation” and they want him to focus on jobs. As Newswire readers will recall, West has decried the “racist effect and consequence” of Obama’s policies, but Smiley told ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper that the 15- or 16-city “Poverty Tour” he and West are conducting “is not an anti-Obama poverty tour and I’m tired of hearing that quite frankly.”
Smiley’s comments to Tapper were made in D.C. as the Poverty Tour-ists visited the D.C. Central Kitchen, a nationally known service and advocacy center for the poor and the homeless. But Smiley and West aren’t the only people on tour looking at issues of jobs and poverty. The Congressional Black Caucus is on a five-city tour conducting town hall meetings focused on jobs, though it is clear that Caucus leaders like Kansas City’s Emmanuel Cleaver are more reluctant to criticize the president. Nonetheless, we imagine that Cleaver hopes Obama is listening when he says that “this is a crisis that can be ignored no longer. If the images of what’s going on here reach Washington . . . it would take a very mean-spirited conscience, or no conscience at all, to allow people to ignore this.”
As for the more combative Smiley–West Poverty Tour, it’s not clear whether it has changed the President’s thinking on poverty. What it has done is generate some opposition within the African-American community, spurring celebrities who don’t typically “do” politics, such as comedian Steve Harvey, to speak up. On his radio show this past week, Harvey read a letter from a “Mrs. Jones from Charleston” who said Smiley and West “did a lot of poverty pimping” on the tour “selling books.” Harvey slammed Smiley’s call for a White House conference on poverty, saying, “Once again Mr. Smiley, you are demanding [to be] the center [of] attention with the President of the United States. Who in the hell has two or three days for [Smiley]?”
Sign up for our free newsletters
Subscribe to NPQ's newsletters to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.
Smiley and West are getting attention, however. At their Chicago stop, for example, they were joined by Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, who said that the persistent poverty and joblessness of African-American communities will lead to “blood on the streets.” Meanwhile, in Detroit, at a relatively sparsely attended session at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, a spokesperson for “Detroiters for Better Government” protested against Smiley and West “criticiz[ing] the man who brought us health care reform, one of the greatest accomplishments for the poor in our nation’s history.” On CNN, the duo complained about the President’s near-total reluctance to even mention the word “poverty,” and Smiley lumped the president in with his Republican opponents in Congress, saying, “I think this debt ceiling deal was really a declaration of war on the poor—the Congress, the President, respectfully, have declared war on the poor.”
How do the NPQ Newswire readers out there feel about the Smiley–West message for President Obama and the utility—or lack thereof—of their Poverty Tour?—Rick Cohen