Poverty the biggest threat to democracy?

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," April 25, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: It is a topic we cover here every night, class warfare. And as we point out, the president's attempt to redistribute wealth in this country. We always ask -- does the strategy actually work? Well, if you look at some of the key poverty statistics, well, you would be hard pressed to think that Obama's economic agenda is helping in any way.

For example, the total number of food stamp recipients has increased by almost 50 million people since the president took office. And when it comes to the amount of Americans living below the poverty line, well, that number has increased by more than six million people since 2008.

So with all of these numbers indicating that big government is not the answer, well, my next guests say, they actually want greater involvement in solving the poverty issue. And they are also saying that poverty is so extreme, it actually poses a threat to our National Security.

So, tonight, we look at the depth of the poverty problem, the impact that has on our country and where the solution actually lies.

And earlier, I sat down with the authors of the brand-new book, "The Rich and the Rest of Us," a poverty manifesto, Professor Cornel West and Tavis Smiley.


Guys, welcome back. Both friends of mine. And Tavis and I kind of got our careers started together. And Professor, it's always good to see you. I don't think we agree often. But I do enjoy it when both of you criticize Barack Obama. I want to thank you for that.

CORNEL WEST, CO-AUTHOR, "THE RICH AND THE REST OF US": We try to tell the truth, but we are critical of you even more. You know that, brother.

HANNITY: I knew that was coming. Listen, I am even mad at the title of your book. I really am. Because this goes back to somehow -- look, you know, with Barack Obama, who said, it's not red America, blue America, it's the United States of America. I don't like this division, this wedge, Tavis, that the president's using. And the 99 versus the one percent, the rich and the rest of us. Somehow, it indicates that that's a bad thing that people are successful.

TAVIS SMILEY, CO-AUTHOR, "THE RICH AND THE REST OF US": Not at all. Mitt Romney is wrong when he thinks that we are engaging what he calls the politics of envy, no one who happens to be poor want what Mr. Romney has, they just want to move beyond the poverty of opportunity in this country to an opportunity to play on a level playing field. We are dangerously close, Sean, to cementing a permanent American catastrophe here. The rich-- the rich more than the poor are responsible, in fact, for this catastrophe we have now. And yet, the poor pay the heaviest price, although they are not responsible for the damage done by the great recession you?

HANNITY: Wait, stop right there. Wait a minute. You are saying that the rich are responsible? Wait a minute. How about government policies that are responsible? Government policies where we now borrow 40 cents of every dollar, 43 million Americans in poverty. One in seven families in America. The numbers of people dependent as I just pointed out, 15 million new Americans needing food stamps. How are the rich responsible -- the top 10 percent pay 70 percent of the bill?

WEST: No. But Brother Sean, government policies tend to reinforce the oligarchs, Wall Street, and corporate elites, interest-free loans. Wouldn't that be nice for students had interest-free loans? But our banks do. Wouldn't it be nice if you could take your labor forces and move to China and Mexico and play lower wages and -- dealing with unemployment and under employment. Government policies too often reinforce the kind of power of the well to do, oligarchy rule. We're calling for an acknowledgment of poor people's humanity and putting them into...

HANNITY: Wait a minute. I am going to agree to concede a point to you, Professor. I don't want any bailouts.

WEST: I like that. I like that.

HANNITY: No. I don't want any bailouts --

WEST: We agree with that.

HANNITY: I don't want Wall Street bailed out. If we want everybody to be rich -- we can't blame the people that have been successful. We have to look at the behavior of the rich. We have to give everybody a good education and we have to get government out of the way. How do you think government's the answer?

SMILEY: We are not blaming them.

WEST: No. But they have to make jobs available, though, Brother Sean. That's the problem. You got to make jobs available. Tavis and I would be the first to say, that when we think of the Catholic bishop, critical of Mitt Romney because he's not concerned about the poor. Yes, we're critical of Barack Obama, we know Barack Obama is better than Mitt Romney but we're critical of the system that he hit. The system tilts towards the rich.

HANNITY: The single best thing we can do is unleash the power of entrepreneurship. In eight years, Reagan was president, he created 21 million new jobs. Twenty one million.

WEST: Not the Reagan, come on Sean, not the Reagan --

HANNITY: Wait a minute. And he didn't accumulate $5 trillion in new debt like Obama has. He created 21 million new jobs, no five trillion in debt.

WEST: But he did generate debt because he increased Medicare. The increase in military led toward the debt after the Reagan regime. But this important though, entrepreneurship is very different than big banks and big corporations. You and I agree, small businesses, once they are unleashed can in fact provide jobs with a living wage, if of course they acknowledge the role of the unions. But when you are talking about corporations and banks who make big money but cut back, then we are dealing with one percent of the population got 93 percent of the income.

HANNITY: But 70 percent of jobs created, Professor, come from small businesses, which are the very people that are being targeted by Barack Obama, if these tax cuts expire in January.

SMILEY: Sean, we agree -- Sean, on this point, we agree. The Obama administration has not done enough for small business in this country. They've sided with big business. They've not looked out for small business. We agree on that.

But this raging myth must finally be busted. Whatever credit you want to give to Ronald Reagan, he did whatever he did on the backs of poor people--

HANNITY: Oh, that is --


SMILEY: He started this attack the poor. Sean, the numbers bear this out and you know it.

HANNITY: No, wait a minute. Reagan never created $5 trillion in debt. Reagan gave us 21 million new jobs --


HANNITY: Barack Obama will finish his first term as the only modern president that has not created a net single job, that he has lost as of this moment about a million jobs in the country. A million fewer people working.

WEST: The poverty rate skyrocketed -- the poverty rate skyrocketed under Reagan, Brother Sean.

HANNITY: Under Obama.


WEST: Greed is not enough. Greed is not enough.

SMILEY: And we're still looking for that welfare queen that Ronald Reagan told us about. The one he made up. We're still looking for it, Sean.

HANNITY: All right, I still love you both.

WEST: No, but we -- we make the argument in the book.

HANNITY: I don't know why, but I like -- listen, I want to solve the problem.

WEST: We make the argument in the book, my brother.

HANNITY: No, the book is --


HANNITY: The book is fascinating, even though it irritates the living daylights out of me. "The Rich and the Rest of Us."


HANNITY: I think you made that title, the both of you, just to annoy me, but I still think this is a conversation worth having. I don't want a single American in poverty.

WEST: There's going to be a number of conservatives who do have compassion, who are concerned about poverty.

HANNITY: I am compassionate.

WEST: Who would be very interested.

HANNITY: I'm -- no, I want -- I want to solve the problem. But get government out of the way.

WEST: So do we.

HANNITY: All right. Well, we --

WEST: But we want compassion and justice. Compassion and justice.

HANNITY: All right. The next time you guys are in New York --


HANNITY: Dinner is on me. You come in the studio and we'll solve the problem, right here.


SMILEY: We'll do it. We'll take you up to that.

HANNITY: All right. You got it. Thank you both for being with us.


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