It is both a little late and a little condescending for President Obama to claim accomplishments in aiding Black America after spending the past few years avoiding the politics of race.
For the most part, the Obama Presidency has been marked with years of notable silence on issues such as double-digit unemployment and eroding educational quality impacting Black America at epidemic levels. Now with the White House in full campaign mode, the administration has recently released “The President’s Agenda and the African American Community”, a 44-page test of Black America’s collective memory concerning Obama’s performance and advocacy.
Our collective response to the report will highlight whether President Obama will have to answer some tough questions from Black folks in 2012 or if he can sure up his most supportive voting base – a base that also requires the least amount of accountability from him.
The title of this report itself is ironic, especially in light of Mr. Obama’s track record on the presidential stage. All throughout, he has worked constantly to shed the image of being a Black president or even a president that openly exhibits an affinity and connectivity to Black America on a regular basis.
For example, the president’s “agenda” for addressing the double-unemployment rate of Black adult workers (compared to their White counterparts) and the over 40% unemployment rate of Black youth can be summarized with his statements to Black leaders in 2010 “…a rising tide (for the nation) lifts all boats…” The White House report brags on President Obama’s desire to extend unemployment benefits to 1.4 million African-Americans, yet that effort only epitomizes the lack of true visionary advocacy that the president should have for Black people. Fighting for unemployment extensions for all Americans is not a specific fight for Black Americans that statistically face a much tighter economic crunch during this Recession.
At a time when Black Americans need a pathway to prosperity, President Obama’s lack of initiating a Black agenda has merely continued the detours of dependency in our communities. The push for Obamacare, the healthcare reform bill that has been routinely criticized as a potential killer of hundreds of thousands of American jobs, further complicates the case that this president is focused on advocacy and advancement of an African American agenda – one that promotes higher levels of prosperity.
Working with the CBC could help Obama put his alleged agenda into motion. However, the president’s recent attempt to build bridges with his former comrades in the Congressional Black Caucus was asking them to “…stop complaining…take off your house slippers (and) put on your marching shoes…” for the sake of this re-election effort. Like the CBC speech plea, the White House report of an African American agenda and any plans to start one at this point only seem to be geared towards one goal in mind: getting Mr. Obama re-elected.
These incidents are parts of a disappointing record of missteps by President Obama concerning African Americans, a reality that more Black Americans now admit privately but refuse to state publicly for fear of “selling out” the first Black president. Truth be told, this president has actually used the national platform to insistently state that he is not specifically focused on the issues of African Americans. To have his White House staff suggest otherwise is another example of the height of condescension towards African American voters that gave the president 96% of their votes in 2008 but are barely 85% employed.
When Attorney General Eric Holder noted in 2009 the increasing racial disparities and other issues of race in America, President Obama’s response was that he “would not have used the same language,” distancing himself from the conversation of race in America. That’s not empathy with Black people, especially after untold thousands celebrated his inauguration with a gaudy display of consumerism.
When the president’s budget proposals actively supported the continued federal funding of Planned Parenthood (an organization with a highly questionable past) while offering to cut Pell Grant funding for at-risk summer college students (including lower-income Black students in most need), one has to ask: how is that advocacy for America’s Black community? That said, the priorities of this White House regarding some of its funding choices become clear when considering the president’s first executive order in 2009 and the Planned Parenthood question.
There are more head-scratching moves that this administration has made towards funding priorities and Black interests that refute the White House’s recent attempt to re-write political history. Cuts by this administration to GOP-supported funding of HBCUs and of the DC voucher program - a much-needed program designed to provide at-risk Black students in Washington DC access to quality education – prompted the question in 2009: where is the advocacy by this White House for America’s Black students? If education is the key (as it has always been for Black America’s advancement out of oppression), why has it been treated so inconsistently by the first Black president, one with an “African American Agenda” that was reported just in time for the 2012 election season?
Lacking consistent advocacy on the education, employment, or public safety fronts, the presidential candidate that had the ability to uplift the nation with a deeper, more meaningful connection with Black America during his tenure as president has repeatedly shown that he does not have an African American agenda, despite the misleading title of the White House report.
It’s a document that is best deemed as campaign literature, not governmental analysis.
The inconvenient truth for this post-racial president: claiming to be an advocate for the Black community during this emerging campaign season, yet avoiding race-based positions and advocacy as much as possible, yields neither advocacy nor leadership. Tragically for the White House (and for Black America in general), it does not meet the definition of having an “agenda,” either.
Will Black voters still support President Obama? Yes, but not at the 2008 clip. Despite what they will admit aloud, they have realized over the past few years that rhetoric promising advocacy has not proven to produce a change in reality for Black America. They will also soon discover that a White House report submitted after years of a distant relationship with Black America does not meet the requirements of a Black agenda – unless, of course, that agenda is purely a political one.
Lenny McAllister is a political commentator found every Saturday with host TJ Holmes and fellow pundit Maria Cardona on “CNN Saturday Morning” at 10:30 AM Eastern (9:30 Central / 7:30 AM Pacific.) This week’s “Saturday Remix” is available exclusively on Politic365.