In the 1,257 GOP debates we've had to sit through, poverty and the poor has rarely come up. So it was no surprise that Mitt Romney would be dismissive of them in an interview this week with CNN's Soledad O'Brien.
If Romney and his fellow Republican candidates haven't bothered to shed much attention on the poor (the same goes for the debate moderators), why should we think the richest guy in the field would really give a flip about them?
"I'm not concerned about the very poor," Romney said. "There's a safety net there, and if it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich; they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the heart of America, the 95 percent of Americans who are right now struggling."
In his comment, he appeared to be clueless. Oh, sure, he said he wasn't worried about the rich as well, but clearly he has made no attempt to advance a plan that speaks to the poor in the country.
When given a chance by O'Brien to clarify the comment, Romney just doubled down. And later, on his campaign plane, he screwed it up again.
"Wealthy people are doing fine," Romney said. "But my focus in the campaign is on middle-income people. Of course I'm concerned about all Americans — poor, wealthy, middle-class — but the focus of my effort will be on middle-income families who I think have been most hurt by the Obama economy."
Seriously, do the guy's dollars signs prevent his brain from understanding the real plight of the poor in this country? So he's "concerned" about all Americans, including the poor, but the "focus" of his effort will be on the middle-class. Why can't the focus be on those not rich?
The fundamental problem with these candidates is that the poor in America are often ignored. Last year, I was highly critical of President Barack Obama for not even saying the word "poor" in his State of the Union speech.
All of these candidates, including President Obama, love to go to manufacturing facilities, hold chats in the living rooms of suburban homeowners, and target their messaging to the vaunted middle class. But when was the last time we saw a president or presidential candidate go into rural America and speak to the poorest of the poor? How often have we seen them visit a public housing complex or another venue where a true light can be shone on those most affected?
When Bobby Kennedy decided to run for president in 1968, he got out of his rich, Hyannis Port, Mass., environment and went on a listening and seeing tour of the most depressed areas in America. For the first time, Kennedy got a sight of the America that he had never envisioned.
President Obama knows what that looks like. As a community organizer, he had to go into those places and work with people there to improve their plight. Does the GPS in Mitt Romney's car even know where those areas are?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 15.3 percent of Americans live in poverty on a salary of a little bit more than $22,000 for a family of four. Trust me, those families pulling in $30,000 wouldn't think for a second they were a part of the nation's middle class.
If Romney truly wants to be president, he sure as heck needs to not be dismissive of the nation's poor. In fact, he should be willing to listen to them, understand how hard many of them work, and determine what policies he can advance that will help them graduate from poverty to the next level. Romney — and all of the candidates — should make discussions with the poor a part of their agenda.
America must stop appealing to the nation's middle class just in an effort to grab votes. Yeah, that's exactly what it is; a pandering exercise. We can't treat the poor as if they are invisible and not worth our time and attention.
Unfortunately, the poor don't have lobbyists, and a lot of people really don't want to hear their stories. But they are our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces. Are we so cold and callous that we'll treat them with such disregard?
Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and author of the book "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin." Please visit his website at RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.