Former Supporters Blast Obama on Poverty Tour

PBS hosts Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, once strong supporters of Barack Obama, are traveling the country criticizing the president for failing to protect the poor during the debt talks. Noted African-American evangelical Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. agrees that the president has done little to help the poor, but says systemic changes, not more wasteful spending, are necessary to lift Americans out of poverty.

Radio and television hosts Smiley and his PBS Princeton University co-host West, have taken to the road on a 16-city "Poverty Tour." The tour stops at various towns and highlights the plights of the poor while blasting the president for his failed leadership.

During his Wednesday stop in the nation's capital, West told ABC News that President Obama should assert his authority more in order to help the downtrodden.

"I think too often [the president] compromises, too often he capitulates. I think the Republicans know that. I think they laugh when he's not around," shared Smiley.

The political duo noted that more middle-income Americans are falling into poverty, and Obama, they lament, never talks about the issue of poverty.

West told ABC that Martin Luther King, Jr. paved the way for Obama's presidency.

"Martin Luther King, Jr. weeps when he sees poor and working people suffering, and [there is] no fundamental focus," he proclaimed.

West and Smiley, both African Americans, know that minorities are disproportionately affected by the struggling economy.

According to a Pew Research analysis of government data from 2009, the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households.

Additionally, the Pew poll found men gained 768,000 jobs since 2009 and reduced their unemployment numbers by 1.1 percent. Women, however, lost 218,000 jobs over the same amount of time and actually saw their unemployment increase by 0.2 percent.

The Circle of Protection, an Interdenominational coalition of Christian groups, met with President Obama last month to urge him to look out for the poor during the bi-partisan debt limit discussions. Coalition members left the meeting, reporting that Obama was aware of their issues.

Days later, he approved a bill with trillion dollars of deficit cuts.

After the president signed a compromise deal influenced largely by Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Smiley questioned, "Where is your plan, Mr. President? When are you going to draw a line in the sand?"

Black evangelical Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. shares West and Smiley's frustration over poverty in the minority community.

"What Tavis is upset about and I'm upset about [is] ... the president doesn't have a strategy to address African Americans and [yet] he expects absolute loyalty from African Americans and Hispanics [in 2012]," he said.

Jackson believes the Obama administration has disappointed the African-American and Hispanic communities with thoughtless spending.

"They're throwing money at the problem, and they trying to impress the masses of people in what looks like great generosity, but it doesn't help the systemic problems," he said.

Jackson criticized Obama's health care reform and education initiatives, saying they do for very little to address systemic problems such as single-parent families and high unemployment.

He’s urging Obama to connect with the moral roots of Christianity and promote the family and entrepreneurship in his domestic policies.

West and Smiley's next tour stop will be Friday at St. Andrew AME church in Memphis, Tenn.

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