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African-American Critics Hit Obama

The Philadelphia Tribune, News Analysis, Larry Miller Posted: Dec 22, 2009

With President Barack Obamas first year in the White House nearing, a growing contingent of Black lawmakers and leaders are pushing the administration to do more to directly help African Americans disproportionately affected by the economic down turn.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is adding his voice to those within the Congressional Black Caucus who are saying that the Obama administration is more focused on helping Wall Street than Main Street.

Jackson was not invited to Obamas recent jobs summit and has requested a meeting with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. As of Tribune press time, that meeting has not been scheduled.

At a recent public address at Loveland High Desert Church of the Victor Valley, Jackson fired away on what he said was the disproportionate impacts the recession and banking crisis have had on minorities.

It was the banks who got the tax breaks, Jackson said in a published report. Why are they so slow to restructure home loans but not repossess homes? They close down plants in Detroit and move those plants to China for cheap wages not better labor, but cheaper labor. Whenever they close the plant, they take our jobs away and the lights go out. Whenever the lights are out, we all look amazingly similar in the dark. In the dark, nature is not black and white; it is dark and light. Let's turn the lights on. The government should lower the interest rates, and as the government bails out the banks, they should bail out the people.

But Obama has defended his policies, saying in recent interviews with The Detroit Free Press that the best thing his administration can do for the Black community is to revive Americas economy and create jobs.

The most important thing I can do for the African-American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period, and that is get the economy going again and get people hiring again, Obama said in a published report.

During a Dec. 7 interview on CBS News 60 Minutes, Obama again pushed back at his critics, saying that the economy is showing definite signs of recovery and that he did not seek the presidency to help Wall Street.

I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of you know, fat cat bankers on Wall Street, Obama said. Nothing has been more frustrating to me this year than having to salvage a financial system at great expense to taxpayers that was precipitated, that was caused in part by completely irresponsible actions on Wall Street. And I've spoken out repeatedly about this. The people on Wall Street still don't get it. They don't get it. They're still puzzled. Why is it that people are mad at the banks? Well, let's see. You guys are drawing down $10, $20 million bonuses after America went through the worst economic year that it's gone through in decades, and you guys caused the problem. And we've got 10 percent unemployment. Why do you think people might be a little frustrated?

Philadelphia NAACP President J. Whyatt Mondesire said no matter what the president does, hes never going to be able to satisfy everyone.

I think the criticism centers on the idea that Obama is not centrally focused on issues that directly affect the Black community, Mondesire said. Of course, he did extend unemployment benefits. Id give him a B plus. Remember, his hands are tied by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. If he manages to get a health-care package passed, he gets an A minus.

But not everyone is willing to take the presidents statements at face value.

In a recent interview, Jackson, who has said he is a supporter of the president, voiced his concerns that civil rights leaders were not included in the jobs summit and he is not alone.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus recently stepped forward, saying Americas first Black president needs to show more concern for the needs of the Black community.

Earlier this month, the CBC almost derailed a sweeping overhaul of the nations financial regulatory system when 10 members of the caucus staged a last minute boycott when the House of Representatives was set to vote on the legislation.

That move almost gave Republican lawmakers the leverage they needed to squash the legislation and caucus members said they think the administration has helped out Wall Street at the expense of Main Street.

Obama has tried desperately to stay away from race, and all of us understand what he's doing, said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., in a published report. But when you have such a disproportionate number of African-Americans unemployed, it would be irresponsible not to direct attention and resources to the people who are receiving the greatest level of pain.

At a recent press conference, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said the caucus was prepared to oppose other White House priorities on the House floor. She said caucus members would use their power and influence to change policies on foreclosures, unemployment and boost credit and federal-contracting programs for minority-owned businesses.

We have not been forceful enough in our efforts to protect the most vulnerable of our population, she said in published reports. We can no longer afford for our public policy to be defined by the worldview of Wall Street.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah said in a published report that the Congressional Black Caucus is simply representing its constituents.

What I think the CBC is saying is that our voices have to be raised on behalf of our constituents, just as the Blue Dogs or any other caucus does, Fattah said. In politics, what happens is the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

Critics of the president point to his March 2008 speech on race as an indicator of what he would do for the Black community if he were elected.

Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now, Obama said.

He went on to say the nation needed reminding of the racial disparities that exist in the African-American community. Disparities he said that could be traced to the inequalities passed on from one generation to another.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's Black and white students, Obama said. Legalized discrimination where Blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or Black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or Blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments meant that Black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between Black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities. A lack of economic opportunity among Black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for ones family, contributed to the erosion of Black families a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban Black neighborhoods parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

Tribune columnist and Temple University journalism professor Linn Washington said the criticism the president is receiving is justified.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama, then a U.S. senator, paid a visit to The Tribune offices for a lengthy editorial board meeting.

During that meeting, Obama was asked about his intentions toward helping African Americans, many of whom are still among the poorest citizens in the nation.

Washington said Obamas response was indicative of what has been taking place since he has come to office.

Its very clear that he has placed the long festering needs of a certain segment of America on the back burner. And by a certain segment, I mean African Americans. His posture that a rising tide lifts all boats sounds fine, but a rising tide doesnt help those boats that are stuck in the mud, WashingtonIraq and Afghanistan and Israel, but to say that we cant provide for our own people is insulting. No one should have to take that and hes rightfully getting the criticism he deserves. said. This isnt about a Black president ignoring the needs of American citizens, but a president ignoring the needs of African-American citizens who happens to be Black. When he came to the Tribune in April during the campaign, he was asked about what he intended to do to uplift those African Americans most in need. He responded by saying a rising tide lifts all boats. While that may have been politically correct in terms of not ostracizing voters, there still exist needs among African Americans that need to be addressed. We can send billions to.

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New America Now: Grading Obama, Save the Deli, In the Kitchen

Obama and Congress: At the Crossroads of Immigration Reform

Minority Businesses Shut Out of Stimulus Loans

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