WASHINGTON – Once again, some in the African American community are hammering President Barack Obama for doing nothing for black people. While I understand where critics are coming from, the president’s detractors fail to take a 360-degree view of what they are demanding from him and ignore what he’s actually done.
On many levels, Obama’s commencement address at historically black Morehouse College on Sunday of last week was typical, filled with advice to graduates. But, unlike most speeches of this type, his was not delivered from on high.
No, in tone and words, Obama spoke to the black men of Morehouse as a familiar peer. He used his troubled past as a real-life example of how one’s limited circumstances are neither destiny nor a hindrance to achieving the American dream as they define it. He urged the graduates not to make excuses, to aim high and to give back.
Yet Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic calls this ” ‘convenient race-talk’ from a president who ought to know better.”
Obama can’t win.
Coates made the most compelling argument of those I’ve read taking the Obama administration to task for its policy failings. Still, he and the Rev. Kevin Johnson, who complained in the Philadelphia Tribune last month that Obama has “failed to surround himself with qualified African-Americans who could develop policies to help the most disenfranchised,” are incredibly shortsighted.
Johnson and others discount the Obama administration’s increases in education funding, particularly for historically black colleges, and ignore the nearly 7 million African Americans who will get health care thanks to Obamacare.
They seem to brush off the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act that reduced the glaring disparity in punishment for those charged with offenses related to crack versus powder cocaine.
They seem to overlook the enforcement actions the administration has taken against the discriminatory practices of banks and mortgage lenders that preyed on blacks with higher fees and interest rates.
This was all done in the first term through a proper and politically necessary rising-tide-lifts-all-boats agenda. After the 2010 midterm elections, when the House swung back to Republican control, the president’s ability to get anything done with Congress was greatly diminished. Accomplishments of late have involved high-stakes drama over a “cliff” or a “ceiling.”
And that’s what’s missing from most African American critiques of Obama: an appreciation for Republican resistance to his agenda. It is naive to expect the president to introduce an explicit and definable “black agenda” in a Congress filled with people who believe him to be a socialist destroying the country while illegitimately occupying the Oval Office.
Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.