In the wake of President Obama’s address to the Congressional Black Caucus, there are those who are making much ado about nothing, including the accusation that, by dropping his “g’s” the president was talking down to African-Americans. Can this president kindly get a break! He is accused of distancing himself from the African-American community, so he shows up at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference Saturday dinner. He stays around to shake hands. The cynical would, predictably, say he is campaigning. Others appreciate the gesture for what it is, attempted outreach.
Yes, he tells folks to stop whining and to put on their marching shoes. Whining may have been a poor choice of words. Still, his focus when he was at the CBC was simple, “pass the jobs bill.” He has challenged Republicans to respond to the greatest need in our nation right now, the need to create jobs, and he was absolutely firm in his focus. What is there to fuss about?
Still, the president’s speech has been fodder for critics, both on the left and on the right. Those accused of “whining” are annoyed by the perceived condescension on the part of the president. Those who think he should never acknowledge an African-American constituency are also peeved. And so the legions of lowlifes, also known as conservative talk show hosts, are having fun with the president’s speech. Few have dealt with the substance.
There is a jobs bill in play and it will cost us nearly $450 billion. It will put teachers, construction workers, and others back to work. It’s a viable plan that doesn’t offer everything, but it is a step in the right direction. Can we focus on the substance, not the rhetoric? President Obama must be frustrated, because I surely am. With Black unemployment inching toward a third, how can we continue to afford the political stalemate that strangles progress? Why is anybody involved in a picayune debt that parses every word, and every inflection, without dealing with the substance of those words?
President Obama has been stuck someplace between a rock and a hard place since his election. He inherited a broken economy and had few tools with which to fix it. He also has a conciliatory demeanor, which makes him a poor negotiator when his effort is to find consensus with those who have openly promised to oppose him. Had he been firmer in his first two years, he might have had a different legislative demographic to deal with in these last two years of his first term. Now, he faces a hostile House of Representatives, some who say their goal is to deny him a second term, even to the peril of our nation.
Our president’s difficulties do not earn him carte blanche from those who answer to their constituencies—jobless, foreclosed on, insecure. There must always be room for principled criticism. On the other hand, our president’s challenges should not earn him this micro-inspection of his every word, his every nuance. I think that when President Barack Obama was at the CBC he was “home” and he expressed himself as if he were home—candid, fiery, frustrated and focused.
I applaud the president for his words, and for his presence at the CBC. At the same time, I stand with those like Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who want more, faster and targeted. Seasoned politicians understand the space in which our president operates, and seasoned politicians understand that while the Tea Party is pushing hard to the right, there are those who must push to the left.
And still, there is a bottom line. Support this president for all of what he stands for. Offer principled criticism for ways he can do better. The criticism shouldn’t be about dropping his “g”s” or scolding Black folk. The criticism ought to be about ideas, proposals, effort and outcomes.
The flap about President Obama’s speech is much ado about nuttin’ (g’s deliberately dropped). What will we do to help the jobs bill pass? Right now that’s the bottom line!
(Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.)