When President Obama takes the stage Saturday for his annual address to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, it is certain to be a warm and festive affair, but probably a little less festive and lot more more urgent than on previous occasions.
In the audience will be Rep. Maxine Waters (D), the California congresswoman who has been a lead critic of the president and his administration for not being sufficiently focused on the stubborn problem of black unemployment. Waters says she expects more from Obama on Saturday.
“African Americans are very proud that there is an African American man who is the most powerful man in the world, and they hold on to that with everything they possibly can, but it’s starting to slip because of the pain of the African American community,” she said.
The speech, which the White House says will focus in part on the American Jobs Act, comes as Obama has faced a softening of support among African American voters and a chorus of criticism from black politicians who now feel free to break what had become the eleventh commandment among black elected officials: Thou shall not speak ill of the first black president.
With fourteen months to go before he stands for reelection, Obama has the challenge of reengaging black voters, a crucial part of the coalition that helped him get elected in 2008. That means making the rounds on black media outlets and shoring up his relationships with the old guard of black political leadership.
This has been trickier than expected. In August, there was grumbling among some members about the president’s approach to the economy — complaints that the White House was not attentive to the pain the recession was causing in black communities.
The president’s recent outreach and his jobs bill have muted some of the criticism, but in some ways the criticism itself was a notable political event, reflective of the harsh economic times.
Polls show that blacks are more likely than before to say that the country is on the wrong track and are less inclined to have favorable views of Obama.
Campaign aides push back on such polls, citing surveys showing Obama grabbing 90 percent of the black vote when matched with a Republican challenger.
But there are concerns about an enthusiasm gap.
No public official has been more vocal and visible in challenging the White House on its economic approach than Waters, who heads the CBC’s jobs initiative.
Last month, in an episode she calls “vintage Maxine,” Waters sought permission from the audience to criticize Obama.
Speaking at a CBC jobs fair in Detroit, she urged the audience to “unleash” black elected officials from the unwritten rule of not openly criticizing the president.
“It was the women in the audience who were angry, and they were insistent that we do something, that we talk to the president, that we get the president to understand what was happening to them,” she said, recalling the incident during an interview in her, adding that she saw widespread discontent in the cities she visited. “It was a moment where I felt that we had to stop shoving it under the rug.”
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SOURCE: The Washington Post