President Barack Obama seeks to repair his relationship with the African-American community – a key voting bloc in the 2008 election whom black conservatives say has been neglected – with a 44-page report reaffirming his commitment to black families and enumerating the successes of his last three years in office.
The report, titled the "President’s Agenda and the African American Community," illuminates how the White House has tried to help African-Americans in a nine-point agenda accompanied with successes.
Obama’s accomplishments include subsidizing 367,000 summer jobs for low-income youth and 260,000 jobs for adults through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, payroll tax cuts for Americans in 2009 and 2010, and expanded health care access through the reauthorized Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare.”
Yet it is notable that few of the policies the report listed as successes for the African-American community were actually tailored for that demographic.
Lenny McAllister, CNN political commentator and author of Dairy of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative): Editorial, Essays and Articles From a Hip Hop Republican, told The Christian Post that the title of the report belies the president’s distant relationship with the African-American community.
“The title of this report is an ironic lead-in … especially considering that this president is noted as saying in 2010 to black leaders that ‘a rising tide (for the nation) lifts all boats,’” McAllister recalled.
He also recalled the president distancing himself from Attorney General Eric Holder’s 2009 statement concerning the nation’s remaining challenges to improve race relations.
“This president has 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 suggests otherwise is yet another example of the height of his condescension towards the African-American voters that gave him 97 percent of their votes in 2008, but have been mostly abandoned by him ever since,” McAllister asserted.
The report is the latest of the president’s efforts to reach out to swing voters and key voting blocs ahead of the 2012 election year. The president has toured a number of battleground states to promote his Jobs Act. In early November, the president and members of his administration presided over a summit of black businesses and community leaders to talk about unemployment and issues plaguing the African-American community.
The Democratic National Committee has also tried to lend a hand. In October, it selected the Rev. Derrick Harkins, the senior pastor to one of D.C.'s oldest African-American churches, as its director of outreach to black and faith communities.
The efforts are a reflection of the president’s approval rating. A Friday Gallup poll revealed that Obama’s national approval rating, 43 percent, is one of the lowest for a president in November of his third year in office. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, had a 52 percent approval rating in November 2003. The lowest approval rating on record belonged to Jimmy Carter who had a 40 percent approval rating in November of 1971.
Despite Obama’s drop in the polls, African-Americans still favor the president far more than any other demographic – 85 percent compared to 43 percent of whites who disapprove the president, and 51 percent of Hispanics.
However, Timothy Johnson, chairman of black Republican group the Fredrick Douglass Foundation, told The Christian Post, “I think people continue to be supportive of him because of the color of his skin but not necessarily his successes in the black community.”
Despite the jobs subsidized through the president’s 2009 stimulus, unemployment has deeply affected the African-American community. While the U.S. employment rate hovers at or slightly above 9 percent during mid-summer through early fall, the unemployment rate in the black community was 15.1 percent.
The unemployment rate angered African-Americans. A September Washington Post-ABC news poll showed that the number of African-Americans who view Obama in a “strongly favorable” light dropped from 83 percent to 58 percent.
Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members also began to criticize the president’s lack of focus on African-Americans. CBC member Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) chided the president for not touring the black community in the summer and questioned his economic plan.
The president responded with rebuff, urging black leaders to “Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying” during the CBC Annual Dinner, which further angered some blacks.
The White House report seeks to regain the confidence of the African-American community by reconciling their needs to his policies.
The president cites $4.35 billion dollar investments in the public school system through his administration’s Race to the Top program and Opportunity Tax Credit as incentives created to enable Americans and African-Americans to have a high-quality education.
“I think that the track record speaks for itself,” Harkins said of Obama’s policies. “I would say to anybody, ask yourself that question: What efforts and what priorities are in my best interest? And I am quite confident that the answer is to remain with the current administration [and] with the president.”
However, McAllister asserted that Obama’s policies such as health care reform with possible loopholes for abortion funding and cutting the District of Columbia’s school voucher program are potentially harmful to blacks.
Obama, he said, is simply “claiming to be an advocate for the black community as a black president during a campaign season following a presidential term where the focus was to avoid race-based positions and advocacy as much as possible.”