(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama told a gathering at Georgetown University on Tuesday that the problem isn't racial segregation, it's wealth segregation, manifested by "elites" who "are able to live together, away from folks who are not as wealthy."
"Kids start going to private schools," he said. (Just as he did and his own kids do.)
Once upon a time, the president noted, a banker lived in "reasonable proximity" to the school janitor; the janitor's daughter may have dated the banker's son; they may have attended the same church, rotary club, and public parks -- "all the things that stitch them together...contributing to social mobility and to a sense of possiblity and opportunity for all kids in that community."
But now "concentrations of wealth" have left some people less committed to investing in programs that benefit the poor:
"And what's happened in our economy is that those who are doing better and better -- more skilled, more educated, luckier, having greater advantages -- are withdrawing from sort of the commons -- kids start going to private schools; kids start working out at private clubs instead of the public parks. An anti-government ideology then disinvests from those common goods and those things that draw us together. And that, in part, contributes to the fact that there's less opportunity for our kids, all of our kids."
President Obama's two daughters attend an elite private school in Washington where tuition runs $37,750 ("includes hot lunch," the school's website notes). His wife and children ski at Aspen, an elite resort in Colorado. President Obama frequently golfs at exclusive private clubs. And the entire family takes summer vacations in a borrowed mansion in ritzy Martha's Vineyard or Hawaii.
But the president wasn't talking about himself or his family at Tuesday's Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty.
He was talking about hedge fund managers and corporate CEOS who now earn "thousands" of times more than the people who work for them. "Now, that's not because they're bad people," Obama said. "It's just that they have been freed from a certain set of social constraints."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, asked on Wednesday morning about Obama's remark, said the president wasn't criticizing people for sending their children to private schools. "He's suggesting that all Americans need to keep in mind that it's in our collective best interests as a country and as individual citizens for us to invest in the common good -- for us to invest and make sure that we have good, quality public schools that are available for everybody."
'Who are you mad at?'
According to the president, "What used to be racial segregation now mirrors itself in class segregation and this great sorting that's taking place. Now, that creates its own politics. Right? I mean, there's some communities where...not only do I not know poor people, I don't even know people who have trouble paying the bills at the end of the month. I just don't know those people. And so there's a less sense of investment in those children. So that's part of what's happened.
"But part of it has also been -- there's always been a strain in American politics where you've got the middle class, and the question has been, who are you mad at, if you're struggling -- if you're working, but you don't seem to be getting ahead.
"And over the last 40 years, sadly, I think there's been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top (Obama himself has done this), or to be mad at folks at the bottom. And I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leaches, don't want to work, are lazy, are undeserving, got traction.
"And, look, it's still being propagated," Obama continued. "I mean, I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu -- they will find folks who make me mad. I don't know where they find them. (Laughter.) They're like, 'I don't want to work, I just want a free Obama phone' (laughter) -- or whatever. And that becomes an entire narrative -- right? -- that gets worked up. And very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress -- which is much more typical -- who's raising a couple of kids and is doing everything right but still can't pay the bills."
"And so if we're going to change how (Republicans) 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 and how people's impressions of what it's like to struggle in this economy looks like, and how budgets connect to that. And that's a hard process because that requires a much broader conversation than typically we have on the nightly news."
Even before he was elected president, Obama campaigned on the promise of wealth redistribution. Throughout his presidency Obama has been a champion of the middle class and an adversary of the wealthy. When he called for tax hikes on the wealthy in September 2011, he insisted it was "not class warfare," but "fairness."
In an August 2013 speech, he railed against "entrenched interests, those who benefit from an unjust status quo, (who) resisted any government efforts to give working families a fair deal."
And since 2013, he's talked repeatedly about income inequality, calling it an "issue that we have to tackle head on" by raising the minimum wage.