US & World

President Obama’s black jobs dilemma

President Barack Obama pauses as he makes a statement at the State Dining Room of the White House.
President Barack Obama pauses as he makes a statement at the State Dining Room of the White House.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters minced no words when she said that members of the Congressional Black Caucus are frustrated and impatient because President Barack Obama is not doing enough to tackle the crisis problem of black unemployment.

Previously, Waters and other members of the caucus have gently chided Obama on the jobs issue. But this time their criticism has taken on even greater angst, with a tinge of antagonism to boot. The unemployment lines have gotten longer, the time that the unemployed have been out of work has stretched from weeks to months, and there is little end in sight. Many major businesses have flatly said they’re not hiring.

Worst of all, Congress has made it even clearer that it will pinch pennies tighter. That means even less likelihood for increased federal spending on job creation initiatives. This drastically narrows the president’s options, and even though he’ll propose a jobs bill in September, almost certainly it will have little chance of getting around the scrooge mindset in Congress.

It’s equally certain that the president’s proposals will be race neutral and not specifically single out blacks for special spending initiatives and programs. This is in keeping with his firm position that spending more on jobs for all will help blacks, because they are the neediest and hardest hit among the jobless.

This line won’t fly with many in the caucus and for blacks who demanded that Obama roll his jobs tour buses and economic forums through the poorest of the poor black neighborhoods in Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles and other hard hit inner-city neighborhoods. But there was never much likelihood of that.

Obama’s eye is firmly set on re-election. And he can’t, or won’t publicly at least, depart from the race-neutral formula that got him into the White House. He’s walking too fine a line to take that chance.
Obama operates on the same principle that Democratic presidential candidates and presidents have followed for the last three decades: to avoid like the plague the perception that Democrats inherently tilt policies and initiatives toward the poor and especially minorities.

This political cross weighs even heavier on Obama. He would have had no hope of winning the Democratic presidential nomination, let alone the presidency, if there had been any sense among white independents that he embraced the alleged race-tinged politics of Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. His campaign would have been marginalized and compartmentalized as merely the politics of racial symbolism.

Polls continually show that the president has lost major support among white voters, and the sharpest drop has been among moderate and conservative white independent voters. They provided his margin for victory in 2008.

No Democratic president or GOP presidential challenger can win without significant backing from them. The slightest hint that Obama is tilting toward African-American voters with a big, bold and aggressive jobs plan, or with other special programs primarily targeting blacks would likely blow any chance that he had of winning a significant number of independents back in 2012. It’s just too risky.

Even if Obama were willing to take the gloves off and turn part of the battle for increased employment spending into a battle explicitly to help the black poor, there would be little political gain. There is absolutely no chance that black voters will desert him in 2012. They are Democrats en masse, and will give any Democratic president, or presidential candidate, a lock down 85 to 90 percent of their vote.

The top Republican contenders offer the worst choice of any GOP presidential candidate, who has come down the political pike in ages as an alternative to him. Their set-in-stone, laissez faire, business-friendly, slash-and-burn attacks on government services and programs, and their silence or outright hostility to expansive civil rights and civil liberties protections have sent chills through the black electorate.

Blacks’ frustration, discontent and grumbles with and about Obama won’t move their vote dial even a tiny tick toward a GOP candidate. This would be tantamount to political suicide. This especially includes the Congressional Black Caucus. With one exception, they owe their offices, position, authority, patronage, perks and total allegiance to the Democratic Party.

The caucus will hector Obama to do more on jobs and poverty for blacks. But in 2012 they will be in full throttle on the circuit campaigning for the president. They have no choice.

Still, it would have been nice for Obama to direct his bus driver on a detour through a few desperately needy and job starved black neighborhoods.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. An associate editor of New America Media, he co-hosts the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. Hutchinson also host the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on podcast on and Internet TV broadcast on Follow him on Twitter.