From an editorial published in the New York Times on Thursday:
In hopes of embarrassing President Barack Obama, several right-wing news organizations took a renewed interest Tuesday in a well-reported speech Obama delivered in 2007 to a conference of ministers at Hampton University, a historically black college in Virginia. As always, they tried unsuccessfully to twist the presidents words into those of a racial provocateur; what they inadvertently succeeded in doing was highlighting a speech that was one of Obamas best, full of ideals and ideas about poverty and urban despair that have been ignored in this years presidential race.
The political reasons for focusing the campaigns on the middle class are obvious, but that doesnt change the fact that the candidates are ducking responsibility for neglecting those without a powerful voice, with Mitt Romney treating them with particular disdain.
As the 2007 speech shows, Obama was once quite passionate about improving the lives of what he called young men and women without hope, without miracles, and without a sense of destiny other than life on the edge the edge of the law, the edge of the economy, the edge of family structures and communities. Fifteen years after the Los Angeles riots, he reminded his audience of the quiet riots that take place when those who are struggling reach the point of despair.
When schools are always second-rate, despair sinks in, he said. When good jobs are always out of reach, when housing is too expensive, when crime and violence loiter on every street corner, people decide that things are never going to get better. That year, as Obama noted, there were 37 million Americans living in poverty and on the far edge of hope. According to the most recent Census report, there were 46 million people in poverty in 2011.
The recession was the biggest reason for that 24 percent increase, obviously, and Obama has proposed a number of measures to lift the poor and revive the economy that have been rejected or diluted by Republicans. But many of the ideas he put forward at Hampton a youth service corps, a program to help low-income people commute to jobs, a prison-to-work incentive program have never been tried or have been listlessly implemented.
If we want to stop the cycle of poverty, then we need to start with our families, he said, urging programs to improve parenting skills, home environments and the health of infants. As president, he included $1.5 billion in the health care reform law for a home visiting program that sends nurses and social workers to the homes of at-risk families. But more is needed.
Reducing urban misery requires money, but, more urgently, it needs sustained attention and creativity. It may never be the subject of a real debate, but the untreated wound leaves both candidates with much to answer for.