by Michael H. Cottman, BlackAmericaWeb.com
P resident Barack Obama, sounding more assertive on the stump, is trying to fire up the African-American electorate, just in time to kick off the 2012 presidential election, which is now 14 months away.
Obama, who is often accused of being too laid back, too conciliatory to too willing to negotiate with Republicans, told the Congressional Black Caucus Saturday that they need to stop griping and whining and support his bid for re-election.
In other words, step up or shut up.
“I expect all of you to march with me and press on,” Obama said. “Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining. Stop grumbling. Stop crying. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do, CBC.”
“I don’t know about you, CBC, but the future rewards those who press on. With patient and firm determination, I am going to press on for jobs. I’m going to press on for equality. I’m going to press on for the sake of our children,” Obama said. “I’m going to press on for the sake of all those families who are struggling right now. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I am going to press on.”
Obama, a skilled orator, was perhaps talking specifically to California Rep. Maxine Waters, who had been critical of Obama for failing to address the skyrocketing 16.7 percent black unemployment rate, which continues to spiral out of control.
The president used his few minutes last weekend at the CBC’s annual awards dinner to rally the faithful, talk up his jobs plan to jump-start the economy and tout his policies that have benefitted black Americans.
Waters, however, wasn’t buying it, and said she found it “curious” that Obama told black leaders to “stop complaining.”
“I don’t know who he was talking to because we’re certainly not complaining,” Waters said on CBS’ “The Early Show.” “We’re working. We support him, and we’re protecting that base because we want people to be enthusiastic about him when that election rolls around.”
Waters and other CBC members this year have said Obama should do more to directly address the black unemployment rate, which is nearly double the national average. The Labor Department earlier this month said the unemployment rate among African-Americans was 16.7 percent in August, while the overall unemployment rate last month was 9.1 percent. Among black youth, the unemployment rate was 46.5 percent in August, the government said.
Waters said she doesn’t think the president would speak in the same tone to other minority communities.
“I found that language a bit curious because the president spoke to the Hispanic Caucus, and certainly they’re pushing him on immigration … he certainly didn’t tell them to stop complaining,” she said. “And he would never say that to the gay and lesbian community, who really pushed him on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Obama has an uphill battle: His approval ratings have hit an all-time low, and the GOP reportedly plans to spend a half-billion dollars to make sure Obama is a one-term president. And their efforts could work. There’s no guarantee that Obama wins a second term in the White House.
However, it seems that Obama understands that he needs an unprecedented turnout from the African-American community – not just a respectable showing – to win in 2012.
This week, Obama will deliver his annual back-to-school speech from Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Northwest D.C., a high school that is predominately black and located in a long-standing black community. The White House says the Sept. 28 speech will give the president a chance to speak directly to students across the country.
The event hasn’t been without controversy. His first year in office, some parents threatened to pull their students from class during the president’s speech.
Conservatives complained that Obama was trying to push his political agenda in the classroom.
And on Monday, in his first television interview on the economic crisis with BET Networks, Obama addressed a variety of topics that are of specific concern to the African-American community, including The American Jobs Act.
“A handful of African-American leaders have been critical,” Obama said. “Somebody is always critical of the President of the United States.”
“It’s especially tough for the African-American community,” Obama said on BET. “The jobs bill overall is designed to rebuild schools and bridges and putting teachers back in the classrooms and putting the unemployed back to work.”
Obama was asked why not target African-Americans for specific economic initiatives?
“That’s not how America works,” Obama said. “When we all pull together, everyone has an opportunity. …I think African-Americans understand that when the economy does well, the African-American community does well.”
Obama is getting support from some unusual, high-profile people. Take actor Morgan Freeman, for example.
Freeman, an accomplished Hollywood icon and Oscar winner, never speaks out on politics and never talks publicly about race. This week,
Freeman uncharacteristically accused the Tea Party of racism in its opposition of Obama.
Why? Because Freeman – like many others – has had enough of Republicans dissing Obama and could no longer hold back.
The Oscar-winning star of “Driving Miss Daisy” and “The Shawshank Redemption” told CNN talk show host Piers Morgan that the Republican offshoot’s determination to avoid a second term under Obama was fueled by prejudice.
“Stated policy, publicly stated, is to do whatever it takes to see to it that Obama only serves one term,” Freeman said.
“What … underlines that? Screw the country. We’re going to do whatever we do to get this black man … outta here.”
Freeman added: “It just shows the weak, dark, underside of America. We’re supposed to be better than that. We really are. That’s, that’s why all those people were in tears when Obama was elected president. ‘Ah, look at what we are. Look at how, this is America.’ You know? And then it just sort of started turning because these people surfaced like stirring up muddy water.”