WASHINGTON — It wasn't your typical panel discussion: President Barack Obama sat down Tuesday with leading thinkers from the left and right to reflect on poverty, income inequality and the stereotypes that get in the way of finding solutions.
"The truth is more complicated" than the caricatures of liberals just wanting to throw more money at undeserving "sponges," Obama said, and descriptions of "cold hearted" free-market types who see the poor as "moochers."
Obama told an audience of about 700 at Georgetown University that it makes him mad when he hears a "constant menu" of stories on Fox News Channel featuring poor people who want a "free Obama phone" or other easy benefits.
"They will find folks who make me mad," Obama declared. "Very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress, which is much more typical, who is raising a couple of kids and is doing everything right but still can't pay the bills."
Obama said the stereotypes are a barrier to finding solutions that will be acceptable to Republican leaders in the House and Senate.
"If we're going to change how John Boehner and Mitch McConnell think, we're going to have to change how our body politic thinks, which means we're going to have to change how the media reports on these issues," Obama said. "... It's a hard process because that requires a much broader conversation than typically we have on the nightly news."
Obama appeared with Professor Robert Putnam of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, at a Catholic-Evangelical summit.
Obama said he was hopeful that the recent unrest in places such as Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, had underscored the need to address income inequality. But when it came to discussing policy specifics, divisions were clear.
Obama highlighted a loophole that allows hedge fund managers to pay low tax rates, saying, "If we can't bridge that gap, then I suspect we're not going to make as much progress as we need to."
Brooks countered that the loophole was a "show issue," and that it was more important to tackle the high cost of middle-class entitlements. Brooks warned against impugning the motives of Republican leaders, calling it the "No. 1 barrier to making progress."
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