In a White House conference call with African American journalists Monday afternoon, hosted by President Obama, America’s 44th president underscored the Nov. 2 election as one that is crucial to the interests of African Americans, and one that could presage things to come depending on how the pendulum swings for either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party.
President Obama said the success of his administration moving forward with policies that he believes are in line with what the American people want will largely hinge on to what extent cities like Detroit come out to vote on Election Day.
The White House was pretty aggressive in reaching out to its most loyal base — the African American vote — when the call came in Monday morning that I should be on the conference call that afternoon with President Obama.
It was clear to me then that stoking its base could be the last redemptive move to save the Democratic agenda from crashing and burning in an era where the Tea Party is becoming the unofficial third party of the democratic process.
But I was wondering if the conference call convened by Obama was a little bit too late, coming only two weeks from the election or was this a harbinger for things to come?
Is the White House setting a precedent that it must now have the president talk frequently with African American journalists on the important issues shaping the lives of our readers?
Perhaps someone in the White House could have advised that the Shirley Sherrod case merited a similar conference call, assuring the African American community that the Obama White House understands its needs as well as sensitive to the deep and flammable cultural and racial issues.
Still no matter the situation, President Obama knows he enjoys the loyalty of the African American community. That came across very clear in the conference call as Obama acknowledged the importance of Black publications, putting it in his own words, “Thank you for the great job that you guys do. I know that you have the pulse of the community and folks listen to you. You’ve got enormous credibility out there.”
The president went further to say, “The most important thing over the next two weeks is making sure that people understand the importance of voting. I hope that all of you can communicate directly to your readership that the president of the United States specifically ask them to turn out to the polls. Not on a partisan basis, take a look at who they think best serves their interests and folks should make up their own mind. But make sure they participate. If they do we’ll have the ability to move forward on the things we talked about today.”
Obama said since his first day as president he’s focused on two main challenges: rescuing the economy from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and rebuilding a new foundation for economic growth.
“Before I was sworn in the economy had lost more than four million jobs in the six months before January 2009. Ultimately lost nearly eight million jobs before any of our economic policies could take effect,” Obama said.
“The economists believe we were on the brink of a second depression and middle class families across the country and working families and those aspiring to the middle class, especially African American families, were in serious jeopardy.”
The president apparently was making the case for a Democratic controlled Congress, which is anyone’s guess in November. He was upbeat but the tone of his voice carried serious concern, which raises high hopes as well as possible disappointments for the coming election.
Obama did not mince his words in making it clear to the Black journalists that he needed the help of his base to ensure that his policies are not reversed by what could potentially be a Republican takeover of Congress.
“Frankly I hoped we were going to get some Republican help in dealing with these challenges. We didn’t,” Obama said. “They decided to stand on the sidelines, and given the scope of the mess we were in, they just said no to everything.”
Obama said unlike the Republican leaders of Congress, his administration decided not to focus on politics but what was right for the country, which among other things he said included helping middle class families by providing tax cuts to 95 percent of families in the country and changing the student loan program to make college more affordable for more students. He mentioned help for historically Black colleges and universities — the $800 million his administration pledged over the next decade for HBCUs.
Also at issue was the plight of small businesses — African American businesses in particular — which the president did not wait to be asked about.
“We have helped small businesses across the board expanding financing. That obviously has a huge impact on minority businesses. They are the ones who have the greatest difficulty in getting financing,” Obama said. “We made a special emphasis in making sure that small businesses are getting the kind of help that they need. We have focused on stabilizing our neighborhoods and helping people stay in their homes.”
One of the questions put to Obama during the call was the lackluster attitude of spineless Democrats who are running for reelection and are afraid to campaign on the successes of his administration. This is an issue that has become noticeable in the eyes of the public as Democrats are not generally willing to openly take credit on the campaign trail for the historic health care legislation passed in Congress. Instead they are treating Obama like a distant cousin on the campaign because somehow they have been made to believe that they will meet their Waterloo if they stand behind Obama.
Obama, ever the diplomat, responded.
“Obviously this is a tough political environment and the fact of the matter is because we have so many things we had to do in such a tough environment, a lot of folks still don’t know what we did,” Obama said. “There is a disconnect between things that we have done and the successful branding of those things by the Republicans as spending and irresponsibility by Washington. That’s probably why I think a lot of Democratic candidates who voted for some of these provisions, who supported me are having a tough time getting traction and that they means sometimes they don’t advertise the help that they provided.”
“What I would tell your readers is look at what Democrats did over the last two years, and they will think that we are good on behalf of America and good on behalf of the African American community.
“If you look at what we have been able to do we made a lot of progress but we still have a long way to go. There are still a lot of people out there hurting. We can only do that if I get help. The last thing we can afford to do is to return to the same economic policies that nearly destroyed our economy in the first place. That is why It is critical that everybody who reads your newspapers understands what is at stake and is going to be turning out to vote and that all of us are willing to fight for the priorities and values we believe in.”