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Not only does President Barack Obama enjoy Blacks' overwhelming adulation and support, many consider him a savior, beyond criticism. But there are indications that Blacks are not, and may never be, among his top priorities. That will not happen unless Blacks--with at least a semblance of unity--present and pursue concrete demands; otherwise, they will see little from the Obama administration. (There is also considerable angst over Obama's lumping Blacks' concerns with all others as "race-neutral," meaning he may never address their specific needs.)
At a recent press conference, a reporter asked Obama whether targeted programs might be needed to address situations like the massive unemployment of Black and Latino men in New York City. Professor Ron Daniels notes that Obama refused to take the opportunity to embrace race-based remedies as a means of dealing with depression-level employment in Black communities. Instead, he claims the overall success of his stimulus program "will be the rising tide that lifts all votes." Daniels cautions that the President is mirroring the race-neutral approach of conservatives.
Like Lincoln and FDR, Obama became president during one of this country's greatest crises. In addition to the massive economic meltdown, Iraq remains an indelible atrocity, the situation in Afghanistan worsens every day, and there's China, North Korea, Europe, etc. All are complex and potentially contentious, even dangerous issues. Further, Bushs' policies increased distrust of the U.S. throughout the world.
The confluence of Obama's brilliant campaign, broad charismatic appeal, exceptional intellect and the economic collapse caused a reluctant but significant white crossover vote. However, Obama was, and remains, saddled with unrealistic expectations, particularly among Blacks. Still, his first 100 days could be a bellwether of his intentions and long range priorities.
A national Town Hall meeting convened by the Institute of the Black World 21st Century in Washington, D.C. last month reviewed Obama's performance for the nation and through the "prism of the Black Agenda." (Even though there is no monolithic Black Agenda.) Dr. Ron Daniels is president of the Institute and summarized the Town Hall meeting.
The general consensus was that Obama moved with "amazing speed" in addressing the complex challenges of the economic collapse. He quickly advancing the stimulus package, mortgage recovery plan, auto bail-out proposal and the Toxic Assets Recovery Program (TARP) that removes bad loans and investments from the banks' books. But the dominant sentiment was that TARP was far too generous to the banks while putting taxpayers at risk if the plan fails.
Congressman John Conyers suggested that Obama's health care proposal would once again reward insurance companies. Labor representatives were pleased that Obama has pledged to support the Employee Free Choice Act but participants gave Obama an "incomplete" for failing to press for passage of the legislation. Spirited discussion favored the importance of targeted programs for the critical needs of Blacks. (Daniels gave Obama's first 100 days a B+, an "A" on overall performance, but a "C" on matters pertaining to the "Black Agenda." Including Blacks in the "rising tiding that lifts all boats" homily was unacceptable.
Despite unanimous support for President Obama there was considerable opposition to his spending trillions of dollars to bail out financial institutions, too big to fail businesses and deficit-running states.
Supporters were also disappointed because of Obama's unfettered support of Israel, increasing U.S. troops in Afghanistan, securing the Mexican border as the top immigration priority and blocking U.S. participation in the World Peace Conference--as did George W. Bush. The President was also criticized for first approving then opposing the release of photos of alleged abuse of detainees by U.S. soldiers. His latest reversal is to renew Bush's military commission system even though his campaign pledge was to rely on federal courts and the traditional military process.
Barack Obama is a welcomed sea change from George W. Bush and his overall performance for his first months in office was exemplary, especially considering the economic quagmire handed him. However, his race-neutral position regarding issues critical for Blacks is a major disappointment. Apparently, he feels politically constrained to do otherwise, which suggests that he may never address their specific needs. Unless Blacks see discernible benefits from Obama's administration, for them, he will have been nothing more than a disappointing, charismatic leader.
Blacks working together to achieve full rights, equity and justice is key. They themselves are principally responsible for developing sustainable strategies to meet these goals. Very likely, Obama will not focus on Blacks' specific needs and concerns, but collectively, they can keep his feet to the fire on issues of importance to them.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail