A Black Community Folk of the First Order
Obama faces uncomfortable questions from black community, lawmakers
By Peter Wallsten and Krissah Thompson, Published: August 25 Washington Post
From the start of his history-making tenure, the nation’s first black president took care never to be seen making policy or political decisions aimed solely or directly at black America. His position: He is the president of the whole country, focused on broad-based fixes to “lift all boats.”
The race-avoidance strategy served President Obama well, helping him attract support from many whites while also mobilizing African Americans energized by the powerful symbol of a black commander in chief.
But a soaring jobless rate among African Americans and a newfound comfort by black lawmakers to criticize Obama’s economic policies are prompting the White House to recalibrate — and to focus more directly on the struggles of black America.
The shift comes amid a growing concern among some Democrats that the stubborn economic conditions in minority communities might hamper efforts by Obama’s reelection campaign to generate the large black voter turnout it needs in key cities to make up for his declining support among white independents.
This week, the White House dispatched a top official to participate in a Congressional Black Caucus jobs forum in Miami that had been scheduled in part to pressure the White House.
The official, Don Graves, the executive director of the president’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, told black lawmakers that the president would consider taking executive action to enact at least parts of jobs-related measures they have introduced to no avail in the Republican-led House.
“You may not feel like the president is listening to you, but he hears you loud and clear,” Graves told the lawmakers before an audience of hundreds crammed into the pews of the Mount Hermon African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The new approach is subtle, but it is significant to African American lawmakers who have been pressing for the change since early spring. One proposal would extend aid to communities with long-standing poverty problems. Another would help the long-term unemployed.
Both ideas would help mostly minorities, said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. In steering clear of the overt race label, he added, “it’s not as in-your-face.”
“They are paying closer attention to what’s going on in the urban core of the major cities,” Cleaver said.
Several black lawmakers said they think the White House is considering additional targeted steps to boost urban communities as part of the jobs package the president plans to release shortly after Labor Day.
And the White House announced this week that Obama will pay a Labor Day visit to Detroit, a hard-hit city where a town hall meeting held by the black caucus drew headlines last week when Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) decried the black jobless rate as “unconscionable” and blasted the president for his recent Midwestern bus tour that focused on rural white communities.
The White House had also intended a major address for Sunday at the now-postponed dedication of the new memorial to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — at which the president could speak in personal terms about the continuing economic challenges black Americans face.