• David Katz
  • Barack Obama in Chicago on election night in 2008

“On the first day, I said, ‘Mr. President, which crisis do you want to tackle first?'” Rahm Emanuel recalled last night in his speech at the Democratic National Convention. “He looked me in the eye, with that look reserved just for his chief of staff. ‘Rahm, we were sent here to tackle all of them, not choose between them.'”

That’s an inspiring tale. But in truth, no president tackles all of a nation’s crises. He’d be foolish to try, given the number of crises. He chooses between them, and politics determines his choices. A first-term president focuses on the crises he must try to solve to win a second term.

The 2008 Democratic platform said poverty was a national concern that could no longer be ignored. “When Bobby Kennedy saw the shacks and poverty along the Mississippi Delta, he asked, ‘How can a country like this allow it?'” the platform noted, referring to a visit Senator Robert F. Kennedy had made to the Delta in 1967. “The most American answer we can give is: ‘We won’t allow it,'” the platform went on. “One in eight Americans lives in poverty today all across our country . . . We can’t allow this kind of suffering and hopelessness to exist in our country.”