Spotlight Exclusives

Calls for Left-Right Action on Poverty at Georgetown Summit

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“I got involved in free enterprise because poverty is what I care about the most. But we’ve gotten into this partisan moment where we blow up policy differences until they become a war–that’s got to stop.”

“Historically, this is the kind of problem that Americans have faced before and solved. [The opportunity gap] is a problem we could solve as long as we recognize that it۪s in all of our interests.”

“We are at a moment where it may be possible to refocus attention on poverty and address some of the most serious gaps. A lot of folks may disagree with me on some issues, but they all have great sincerity in their concern for the least fortunate.”

The kinds of sentiments you see above expressing an apparently sincere, urgent desire to reach bipartisan consensus on alleviating poverty and expanding opportunity have not always abounded in public discourse. Sometimes Spotlight seems like one of the few places one can find leaders on the right and left seeking common ground on issues affecting low-income families. So who was in such an agreeable mood today?

Respectively: American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks, Harvard professor and author Robert Putnam, and President Barack Obama.

All three participated in a panel at the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty at Georgetown University. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne moderated a discussion on the possibility of real consensus on solving poverty, as well as the urgent need for reform. Obama and Brooks agreed that policymakers on the right and left, regardless of specific disagreements, each care deeply about the issues affecting low-income Americans.

“If we can have a both/and۪ conversation, rather than an either/or۪ conversation, we۪ll be making progress on poverty,” said Obama. “We can do something about these issues. It۪s a mistake to suggest that every effort we make has failed and we are powerless to address poverty.”

The panel spoke to the larger mission of the summit: assembling religious leaders from Catholic, evangelical, and other religious communities to spur real change on poverty. Obama, Brooks, and Putnam addressed the ideological stereotyping that too often leads to political paralysis.

“This is a purple problem۪,” said Putnam, author of the recent book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. “There are those on the left who see the economic side most clearly and want to address that. But there are those on the right who see most clearly the effects of family disruption on poor children. Just because you care about one doesn۪t mean you don۪t care about the other.”

Of course, there were moments of disagreement on issues like taxation and debt. But all panelists agreed: poverty in America is urgent, and should be a key issue in the 2016 elections.

“We ought not to disempower ordinary Americans,” said Putnam to nods from the other panelists. “I’m talking about making poverty and opportunity a higher issue on both parties۪ agendas.”

We at Spotlight couldn’t agree more.

Posted by Adam

Here at Out of the Spotlight, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at the latest news and information essential to anyone working to fight poverty. From key political appointees to clashes over policy, we cover the news that doesn’t always make the evening news. Check out Out of the Spotlight for our take on the twists and turns of the latest political developments and their impact on poverty reduction. Topics and ideas are welcome! Just contact or

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