GIST OF THE DAY: Is Obama Glossing Over Poverty?

Standing before an
audience of 80,000
rapturous supporters
and framed by a pair
of giant Greek
columns, Barack
Obama partly used his 2008 nomination
acceptance speech in Denver to showcase a
subject he has mostly seen fit, ever since, to
avoid. "We are more compassionate," he said
back then, "than a government that lets veterans
sleep on our streets and families slide into
But since then, the poverty rate has increased:
from 13.1 percent in 2008 to 15.1 percent in the
most recent measurements released by the U.S.
Census Bureau. And while he is widely seen as
an ally of those Democratic constituencies most
apt to focus on the plight of the underclass,
Obama has actually mentioned the poor less
frequently than any of his modern predecessors
in the Oval Office.
A new study by Georgetown University's Center
for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a non-
profit center whose social scientists study issues
of concern to Catholics, tabulated all references
to an economic class that have appeared in the
public papers of each president dating back to
John F. Kennedy, the nation's first -- and to date
only -- Catholic president.
The study found that Lyndon B. Johnson,
architect of the 1960s "War on Poverty," was
most apt, among the modern presidents, to
mention the poor in some form or fashion: 84
percent of the time he made reference to any
economic class. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter came
next, with both mentioning the underclass
approximately three-quarters of the time.
Presidents Ford, Reagan, and George W. Bush all
rated in the mid-to-high 60s, with Richard Nixon
and Bill Clinton not far behind. George Herbert
Walker Bush, the study found, was apt to speak
about the poor fully half the time.
Only then -- dead last in the Georgetown
rankings -- comes Barack Obama, who mentions
the nation's least well-off only 26 percent of the
Instead, the incumbent is much more likely to
invoke the middle class. The study finds him
doing so more than half the time he makes
reference to an economic class in his public
pronouncements, with Obama's nearest
competitors in that category being Bill Clinton,
who mentioned the middle class 23 percent of
the time, and George H.W. Bush, who did so 14
percent of the time.
Contacted about the study by Fox News, the
White House declined to comment on the record.
However, the White House website features
statistics on "urban and economic mobility"
stating that the stimulus measures enacted
during the president's first term have directly
lifted at least 7 million Americans out of poverty,
and eased the suffering of another 32 million
Americans still below the poverty line.
"I care less about the rhetoric than the actual
actions that were taken," said liberal
commentator Alan Colmes, a Fox News
contributor. "The president has done specific
things to improve the economy. ... If you're
raising the middle class, you're helping
everybody who makes less than that."
Noam Neusner, a former White House
speechwriter under President George W. Bush,
suggested the opposite: that the chief deficiency
in the current White House, where the poor are
concerned, is one of policy more than rhetoric.
"(President Obama) doesn't have a program for
the poor," Neusner said. "His focus is not so
much on the problem of poverty in America; his
focus has been on the problem of super-wealth
in America. ... And as Margaret Thatcher
famously said to her colleagues on the Labour
side, 'You don't care about the poor; all you care
about is making the rich poor.'"
The study of presidential statements by the
Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate
grew out of another inquiry its social scientists
were conducting: into the large number of
Catholics that may run for president in 2016,
and the potential that may hold for a renewed
focus on poverty in the next presidential cycle.

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