Given Sen. Barack Obama’s previous work in the private sector, and his message of hope in his presidential campaign, it seems like a no brainer that he should be devoting more time to the issue of poverty in America. Obama finally unveiled his plan to combat poverty today. “We stand not ten miles from the seat of power in the most affluent nation on Earth. Decisions are made on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue that shape lives and set the course of history. With the stroke of a pen, billions are spent on programs and policies; on tax breaks for those who didn’t need them and a war that should’ve never been authorized and never been waged. Debates rage and accusations fly and at the end of each day, the petty sniping is what lights up the evening news,” Obama said.

He continued, “And yet here, on the other side of the river, every other child in Anacostia lives below the poverty line. Too many do not graduate and too many more do not find work. Some join gangs, and others fall to their gunfire. The streets here are close to our capital, but far from the people it represents. These Americans cannot hire lobbyists to roam the halls of Congress on their behalf, and they cannot write thousand-dollar campaign checks to make their voices heard. They suffer most from a politics that has been tipped in favor of those with the most money, and influence, and power. How can a country like this allow it? No matter how many times it’s asked or what the circumstances are, the most American answer I can think of to that question is two words: We can’t.”

Obama went on to talk about the failings of LBJ’s war on poverty, and the impression it left on the political right. “The right has often seized on these failings as proof that the government can’t and shouldn’t do a thing about poverty – that it is a result of individual moral failings and cultural pathologies and so we should just sit back and let these cities fend for themselves. And so Ronald Reagan launched his assault on welfare queens, and George Bush spent the last six years slashing programs to combat poverty, and job training, and substance abuse, and child abuse. Well, we know that’s not the answer.”

He then talked about what works and makes a difference. “When you’re in these neighborhoods, you can see what a difference it makes to have a government that cares. You can see what a free lunch program does for a hungry child. You can see what a little extra money from an earned income tax credit does for a family that’s struggling. You can see what prenatal care does for the health of a mother and a newborn. So don’t tell me there’s no role for government in lifting up our cities. But you can also see what a difference it makes when people start caring for themselves.

It makes a difference when a father realizes that responsibility does not end at conception; when he understands that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one. It makes a difference when a parent turns off the TV once in awhile, puts away the video games, and starts reading to their child, and getting involved in his education. It makes a difference when we realize that a child who shoots another child has a hole in his heart that no government can fill. That makes a difference.”

Then he discussed his plan, and a Harlem Children’s Zone program that provides parental counseling, early childhood education, after school programs, medical services, job and financial counselors, and technology training. Obama said he would like to set up a national program like the one in Harlem. This is part one of his poverty plan. He acknowledged that this part of his plan won’t be cheap. “Now, how much will this cost? I’ll be honest – it can’t be done on the cheap. It will cost a few billion dollars a year. We won’t just spend the money because we can – every step these cities take will be evaluated, and if certain plans or programs aren’t working, we will stop them and try something else,” he said.

Obama wants to expand financial help for fathers who want stick around and raise their children. He also wants to spend $1 billion on transitional job programs that will help get the urban poor jobs, and train them for better ones. He also wants to raise the minimum wage and triple the Earned Income Tax Credit for minimum wage workers. In the fourth part of his plan, Obama wants to create a World Bank style lender to encourage business growth and development in urban areas, and a national network of business incubators. The final part of Obama’s plan would create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that would look to add 112,000 new housing units in mixed income neighborhoods for the poor.

I think this was a great speech for Obama. He finally put forward some original ideas on an issue that Hillary Clinton isn’t talking about. The problem for this plan, much like Obama’s universal health insurance plan, is that it will be very expensive to implement. While Obama and Edwards are both talking about poverty, but Edwards is focused on rural poverty, and Obama the cities, I think this plan is a little too large and expensive to ever get passed, and I am sure his critics will call him a tax and spend liberal, but at least instead of just talking about hope, Obama brought some ideas to the table. It may have taken him a while, but he has finally distinguished himself from his competition on an issue, and if he wants to win the Democratic nomination, he needs to continue down this path.

Full text of Obama’s remarks 

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at

 Jason can also be heard every Sunday at 7:00 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at


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