President Obama has been criticized by some liberal critics for not doing enough to improve the lives of the nation’s poorest citizens and for not even talking as much as those critics think he ought to about poverty.
In fact, when Mitt Romney uttered his gaffe about the “very poor” this week, some on Twitter used the occasion to note that Obama couldn’t exactly be accused of obsessing over the most impoverished Americans, either.
Thus, it was interesting juxtaposition, coming a day after the Republican presidential candidate’s by-now infamous comment, to hear President Obama take the opportunity of the annual National Prayer Breakfast Thursday to mention the moral and religious duty of the haves for the have nots.
Obama didn’t mention Romney, the Republican presidential candidate. But then he didn’t have to. He knew many of his listeners would fill in the blanks for themselves.
Early in his speech, the president mentioned several historic figures whose religious beliefs informed their actions. Among them were Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker and Jane Addams of the Hull House in Chicago who were passionate advocates for the poor.
Later, Obama made a number of statements grounded in the religious imperative to help the poor. It’s not surprising that he would make such observations at a prayer breakfast. But there did appear to be more of an emphasis on society’s obligation to the poor in Thursday’s version of the prayer breakfast speech than in the past. A sampler:
“Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need. These values are old…
“… But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’ It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.
“… Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need. These values are old. They can be found in many denominations and many faiths, among many believers and among many non-believers.
“And they are values that have always made this country great — when we live up to them; when we don’t just give lip service to them; when we don’t just talk about them one day a year. And they’re the ones that have defined my own faith journey.”
Obama was certain to state that it wasn’t only the job of government to provide a safety net, as Romney might say, but of private individuals in a position to help.
“And as important as government policy may be in shaping our world, we are reminded that it’s the cumulative acts of kindness and courage and charity and love, it’s the respect we show each other and the generosity that we share with each other that in our everyday lives will somehow sustain us during these challenging times.
“John tells us that, ‘If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.’ “
It’s no surprise that Obama would speak about the duty the better off have to the poor at a prayer breakfast.