Whenever President Barack Obama wades into the debate over the causes of – and solutions to – poverty, urban poverty in particular, he often encounters critics at both ends of the ideological spectrum.

Liberals (specifically black intellectuals) have often found fault with his focus on personal and parental responsibility; the “get Cousin Pookie away from the television” ethic Obama has championed in churches, and at rallies and college commencements around the country since he was a presidential candidate is derided by some as victim-blaming, “respectability politics.” Critics on the right, meanwhile, accuse the president of offering an onerous governmental solution to every problem, everything from free preschool to a substantially higher minimum wage to free community college, at seemingly unlimited expense to businesses and to the taxpayer.


And whether at Georgetown or in the ongoing political debate in Washington, all three men agree thatpeople of faith will remain engaged in the public policy debate over poverty, with or without a national consensus.

“Jim Wallis, the progressive evangelical [and the founder of Sojourners magazine] likes to say if you cut out what Jesus said about the poor from the gospel you have a book full of holes,” Dionne says. “So the notion that a religious person or a Christian can be indifferent to the poor is about as heretical as any idea you can imagine.”