PBS Host Singles Out GOP Candidates for Hostility to Poor, 'We're In a World of Trouble'

PBS host and leftist activist Tavis Smiley called out Republican candidates for their hostility to the poor in America, on Thursday morning on MSNBC. Appearing during the 7 a.m. hour of Morning Joe, he singled out four candidates by name and warned that "we're in a world of trouble" due to their campaign trail rhetoric.

As a PBS host, Smiley benefits from public funding. That has not stopped him in the past for making outrageous liberal remarks, and it didn't stop him on Thursday when he railed against a Congressional "bipartisan consensus that the poor just don't matter."

Smiley predictably slammed the Democrats from the left and saved the stronger invective for the Republicans. He ranted that "the left, that is to say the Democrats, those left of center, are too often spineless and milquetoast...too many on the left are not doing enough and saying enough about poverty in America."

"And on the right, if what Mr. Santorum has been saying, and Mr. Paul, and my – my friend Newt Gingrich, the stuff he's been saying, and even Romney on occasion," he continued, singling out candidates by name, "if we're supposed to take from their words on the campaign trail what they would do – not for, but to – the poor, we're in a world of trouble here."

So according to Smiley, Republians are not simply ignoring the poor but are hostile to them. This echoes what he said Wednesday on CNN, that certain candidates are waging a "verbal war against the poor."

Smiley and his liberal sidekick Dr. Cornel West from Princeton made their rounds on cable news Wednesday and Thursday to promote their upcoming book on poverty. Both men are liberal activists, but they received soft interviews at CNN and twice at MSNBC, and appeared on the Sean Hannity radio show to preach their liberal gospel.

They re-appeared on MSNBC during the 12 p.m. show Now With Alex Wagner, and West slammed the bailouts as "socialism for bankers." The liberal host Wagner offered her own liberal shot at the Republican Party.

"[Y]ou know one of the things we talk about in this conversation is income inequality, which sometimes seems to fall on deaf ears, vis-a-vis the GOP," she jabbed. "One university said – they said that 42 percent of U.S. men raised in the bottom stay there. Do you think that that's something that will resonate more with the party that as yet seems to be turning a deaf ear to the broader discussions of income disparity?" she teed up Smiley.

And although both Smiley and West feel they need to "keep the pressure" on Obama and the Democrats, West surmised that "Barack Obama is much better than the mediocrity among the Republicans." Neither guest received any scrutiny from the center or the right when they appeared on CNN and MSNBC; the only mildly critical questions came from the left.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on January 12 at 7:24 a.m. EST, is as follows:

[7:24]

JOE SCARBOROUGH: David Remnick was just talking about the fact – and we've talked about it before – politicians, and not just on the Republican side, on both sides politicians don't talk about the poor. They don't talk about the truly disadvantaged. They don't talk about the millions left behind.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Look at the numbers, by the way.

SCARBOROUGH: Why?

TAVIS SMILEY, host, PBS's Tavis Smiley: Good morning Joe, good morning Mika, good morning Willie, good to be back on. The short answer is – and Doc and I were talking about this during the break a moment ago, Joe – in this town of Washington where we sit right now, there seems to be, in fact there is, I believe, and let me be more strong – there is a bipartisan consensus that the poor just don't matter. Doc and I believe that it is the telling of truth that allows suffering to speak, and if nobody tells the truth about the condition that poor people are enduring in this country, then their suffering gets rendered essentially invisible. And so it's not just in this country at the moment a poverty of opportunity, as you all were discussing earlier. There's a poverty of affirmation in this country, a poverty of compassion. A poverty of truth, a poverty of courage, a poverty of imagination in this country right now. And what we were doing with our poverty tour last summer, the bus tour we took when we were last on this program tonight, at George Washington and later this year with the book coming out, we are determined that we're not going to endure this time what we endured that last time around, and that is simply to say this. In the last presidential race, those three debates Mika between McCain and Obama – three presidential debates the word "poor" or "poverty" doesn't come up one time. Obama doesn't say it, McCain doesn't say it, sadly the moderators didn't ask about it. So if we don't raise the issue of poverty this time around, these one-in-two Americans who are in or near poverty are going to get rendered invisible.

BRZEZINSKI: Well Dr. West, I was just looking at the numbers of the new poor, how they've risen in the past few years, and certainly it's an issue that is gripping this country, especially given the economy and the unemployment rate. Are any of the Republican candidates addressing this in any real, sincere way?
 


CORNEL WEST, professor, Princeton University: No, I don't think so. I think Tavis and I are fundamentally committed to the fact that poor people are precious and priceless like anyone else. They are not given a priority – in fact, it's fairly clear big money is in the driver's seat. I think the Supreme Court ought to be ashamed of itself with the decision. It's clear that oligarchs are ruling. Politicians come through, they rotate, they reign for a moment but big money, big business, big corporations are actually running things. Occupy movement is right about that. And all we're saying in the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. – our poor brothers and sisters, our working brothers and sisters of all colors, they ought to be at the center of our policy, but now it's big money, big money, big money, and it's a very sad spectacle to see our democracy moving to this oligarchy, this plutocracy of people feeling, especially poor people, that they don't matter, they don't count. We refuse to believe that, we think Americans across the board would agree with us.

WILLIE GEIST: Guys, it's Willie, good morning. Good to see you both again. Tavis, let me ask you specifically why we're not talking about this. You say politicians don't mention the word "poor" or "poverty," is it because there's nothing in it for them electorally? Is it because it's better for them to go to fundraisers to talk to Wall Street CEOs, people who can fund their campaigns? Why is it precisely that they're not talking about the people who need the most?

SMILEY: In the tradition of the black church, Willie, I would just say "Amen" to everything you just said. You've answered your own question. There's nothing in it for them, and so that poor people end up being at best, a political calculation, at worst, a political afterthought. They just don't matter. Here's the problem, though. In the past, as everybody around that table there in New York knows, politicians look at the poll data and they are told by their pollsters that you have to find a way to speak directly, Willie, to the angst of the middle class voter. But here's the problem this time around. The new poor are the former middle class, so that dog ain't going to hunt this time around. You've got to have to find a way to speak to the crisis that poor Americans – the perennially poor, the new poor, and the near poor, you've got to speak to their angst right now. And here's the problem, and Joe said it earlier, that the left, that is to say the Democrats, those left of center, are too often spineless and milquetoast – there are exceptions, obviously – but too many on the left are not doing enough and saying enough about poverty in America. And on the right, if what Mr. Santorum has been saying, and Mr. Paul, and my – my friend Newt Gingrich, the stuff he's been saying, and even Romney on occasion – if we're supposed to take from their words on the campaign trail what they would do – not for, but to – the poor, we're in a world of trouble here.

(...)

WEST: Oh, no. We don't believe the candidates are the same at all. Barack Obama is much better than the mediocrity among the Republicans. But that's not saying a lot, you know, I mean good god, as I've said before.

(Laughter)

DAVID REMNICK, editor, The New Yorker: But isn't it saying – isn't it saying something, though, when you put 30-odd million on the healthcare roll? Isn't that a component part of being poor in America because of lack of health care?

(Crosstalk)

WEST: Absolutely. That's an important breakthrough. I wish it was more, but the jobs – we had a jobs bill in place, that's better than what the Republicans have to offer. But my role is both to acknowledge him being better, but to put – keep the pressure on him and on all politicians, because the system itself is broken –

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014