PRINCETON – Barack Obama worked for three years as a community organizer on Chicago’s blighted South Side, so he knows all about the real poverty that exists in America. He knows that in one of the world’s richest nations, 37 million people live in poverty, a far higher proportion than in Europe’s wealthy nations. Yet Obama’s campaigning has focused on “Main Street” and tax cuts for the middle class, bypassing the issue of what to do about poverty.
It’s not as if Obama has no policies for helping the poor. Go to his Web site, click on “The Issues” and then on “Poverty.” There you will find a set of thoughtful proposals ranging from raising the minimum wage to establishing model “Promise Neighborhoods” that will attempt to turn around areas with high levels of poverty and low levels of educational achievement by providing services such as early childhood education and crime prevention. (Go to John McCain’s Web site, and you won’t even find “poverty” among the list of issues to click on – although “Space Program” is there.)
So why isn’t Obama speaking up about an issue on which he has so much more first-hand experience than his opponent, and better policies, too? Perhaps not enough of the poor vote, or they will vote Democratic anyway. Moreover, his researchers presumably have told him that independent middle-class voters are more likely to be won over by appeals to their wallets than to concern for America’s poor.
If America’s poor don’t rank high among voters’ concerns, it is no surprise that the poor abroad are virtually invisible. Again, Obama has both the background – with his family ties to Kenya – and a promising policy, to increase America’s foreign assistance to $50 billion by 2012, using the money to stabilize failing states and bring sustainable growth to Africa. (Currently, of all the OECD donor nations, only Greece gives a lower percentage of its gross national income than the United States does.)