Obama’s defenders have repeatedly said he must be a president for all Americans, not just African Americans, and Obama himself has made similar statements. But this argument is disingenuous. When other important constituencies ask the president to support their policy initiatives — say, Jewish groups on Middle East matters, or the LGBT community on “don’t ask, don’t tell” and marriage equality, or women’s groups on reproductive rights — can you imagine him responding that he can’t address their particular interests because, as president, he has to be concerned with all people?
So on racial inequality, why do black voters have to take a back seat?
When a reporter for BET asked the president in 2009, during the debate over the stimulus bill, if he would do something to specifically address high unemployment among blacks and Latinos, Obama responded that “every step we are taking is designed to help all people” and reiterated that “my general approach is that if the economy is strong, that will lift all boats.” But what of those who have no boats to begin with?
The key question is not why Obama, as a black man, isn’t doing more for the black community. Rather, what is he doing for the most loyal constituency of the Democratic Party, a constituency that just happens to be black, and just happens to be in need of policies that are universal as well as targeted to address long-standing inequalities?