President Barack Obama preached to the choir this week, telling members of The National Urban League in an election-year speech that he will create a new White House office to ensure that African-American students are better prepared for high school, college and to compete in the global marketplace.
“I’m establishing the first-ever White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans so that every child has greater access to a complete and competitive education from the time they’re born all through the time they get a career,” Obama told the Urban League in New Orleans on Wednesday.
Obama, who is locked in a tight race with Republican rival Mitt Romney, needs the unbridled support of The National Urban League, and other civil rights organizations, to win re-election in November.
The president’s high-profile announcement to The National Urban League was designed to rally the troops three months before the election while addressing a black, upper-middle-class organization that has spoken out for years about the educational achievement gap between the nation’s black and white students.
Obama’s education initiative for black students is a good government policy and it’s also good politics. He signed an executive order Thursday making it official.
“We’re pushing all colleges and universities to cut their costs because we can’t keep asking taxpayers to subsidize skyrocketing tuition,” Obama said.
Meanwhile, Obama’s black critics have been waiting for the president to unveil a major plan that specifically addresses the needs of African-Americans and black young people, in particular.
“I am pleased that President Obama has signed an executive order focused on improving educational outcomes for African-American students,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said in a statement Thursday. “For three years, I, along with the Congressional Black Caucus, have worked diligently with the Obama Administration to develop a mechanism ….to comprehensively address the state of African-American education.”
The president is keenly aware that black Americans need to vote with enthusiasm in November – and vote in large numbers – if he is going to have a shot at being re-elected. Perhaps Obama’s education-plan announcement will be the emotionally-charged initiative he needs to help get black voters revved up for November. The Obama campaign is also hoping to attract several million black voters who were not registered to vote in 2004. It’s a tight race: A new poll shows Obama leading Republican rival Mitt Romney, 49 percent to 43 percent, in a national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released this week. Among voters in 12 battleground states, Obama led 49 to 41.
Despite the surveys, Urban League leaders have suggested that Obama may have a tougher time winning at least three battleground states in November if black voter turnout does not reach the record numbers of 2008. A similar slide would also make it difficult for Obama to win in Virginia and Ohio too, Urban League officials said.
“We wanted to point out that turnout makes a difference and African-American turnout makes a difference,” Marc Morial, president of The National Urban League, said in a statement.
But heavy black voter turnout isn’t the only concern within the Obama campaign. Obama also needs money: The Romney financial blitz prompted Obama to write a letter to donors warning supporters that he could trail Romney by historic proportions. Romney has raised more money than Obama two months in a row.
“I will be the first president in modern history to be outspent in his reelection campaign, if things continue as they have so far,” Obama wrote.
So here’s the problem: the black unemployment rate remains at an unacceptable 14.4 percent, which means many of the 23 million Americans who are out of work are black.
Several black Democrats who donated to Obama’s campaign in 2008 tell me they won’t be able to contribute this time around. And these people are not alone. I suspect the campaign could see a drop in donations among African-Americans simply because so many black folks are unemployed.
Still, the Urban League was a good place for Obama to take his campaign message because, overall, the Urban League attracts corporate executives and upwardly mobile African-Americans, many of whom are employed.
Obama’s speech to the Urban League comes as the Urban Institute’s Unemployment and Recovery report shows how badly black Americans are hurting.
“For black workers, it’s a one-two punch to their economic security: blacks are not only disproportionately more likely than whites or Hispanics to experience long-term unemployment, they are less likely than whites to benefit from unemployment insurance,” according to the Urban Institute report.
The report said that African-Americans, 11.6 percent of the labor force in February, were 22.9 percent of those unemployed for more than six months.
Three months before the November election, Obama’s challenge is to fire up his base and try to recapture that historic enthusiasm from the 2008 campaign.
“We still have much more work to do,” Obama told the Urban League. “There’s still too many out of work, too many homes underwater, too many Americans struggling to stay afloat…I still believe in you. And if you still believe in me, I ask you to stand with me, march with me, fight with me.”
This was Obama’s rallying call to black America: the president is counting on millions of black folks to march to the polls in 103 days so Obama does not go down in history as a one-term commander-in-chief.