Last week I did a radio interview talking about President Obama’s second term. One of the things the host wanted to talk about was Obama’s relationship with the Black community. Specifically, did I think that he needed to have a “Black Agenda” or talk more overtly about race. I sighed, and gave a version of the answer I’ve been giving for the past few years: “No, not really.” Now, just because I used to work for the President doesn’t mean I give him a free pass or agree with him in all things (like this, for example). But on this particular topic? I got Obama’s back, and here’s why.
To paraphrase James Carville, it’s the policy, people. To me, that’s what it all comes down to. The President’s job is to push for policies and sign bills that better the lives of you, your family, your community and your country. Rhetoric is important, symbolism is important, special shout-outs feel great. But none of that is as important as the laws that get passed that have a direct impact on our lives.
Sometimes I think we expect more out of someone who looks like us than other people (much in the same way women expect more out of other women leaders). But I think that is totally the wrong way to go about it. We should be holding the President to the SAME standard we hold every other president to. As in, he shouldn’t be passing laws or doing things to harm us. But I don’t expect him to do something that I wouldn’t expect of, say, President Clinton, or President Bush for that matter (I just know the likelihood of being pleased is different under one of those men). It makes me wonder how much of this is personal with *some* of the folks complaining the loudest. I’m not one to see conspiracies around every corner, but some of the commentary out there about Obama and the Black community sounds a lot like hurt feelings and bruised egos.
Now, that’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement — no one is perfect, not even the President. There’s always something “more” everyone can be doing. But on the whole, I think some of the gripes against Obama are unfounded. It’s not like he hasn’t spoken directly to issues pertaining to the African American community. And it’s not like he hasn’t passed laws that have direct benefits for the community as well, such as supporting minority-owned businesses through the Small Business Administration, ending the crack/cocaine sentencing disparities, passing the Affordable Care Act and investing in HBCUs, to name a few.
With me, actions speak louder than words. I was always less interested in what President Bush had to say than what he was actually doing. And it’s what he did and the policies he fought for and enacted that caused me to not support him. Bush often gave nice speeches, said nice things, and always seemed like a nice, fun-loving guy, but for the most part, his policies were pretty atrocious.
But alas, the media loves this story. Any time they can show fissures — fake or real — between Obama and his supporters, they pounce. Now that’s not to say there aren’t legitimate differences that pop up every now and then. No one supports anyone 100 percent of the time. I’m sure not even the tea-partiest tea-party person supported everything Michelle Bachmann did. But given the overwhelming support President Obama received in November from African Americans and his rising popularity since, I think it’s pretty safe to say that this community approves of the work he’s doing. And as long as he continues to push for and sign legislation beneficial to the Black community, I don’t see that support subsiding anytime soon.
Daniella Gibbs Léger, a former special assistant to President Obama, is the Vice President for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @dgibber123