Obama's Careful Urban League Speech
The president kept his message all-inclusive at the civil rights group's annual convention.
By: Monroe Anderson | Posted: July 26, 2012 at 12:06 AM
(The Root) -- President Barack Obama walked a narrow line in his speech to the National Urban League convention in New Orleans Wednesday night, attempting to fire up his most enthusiastic base while giving his most rabid enemies as little ammo as possible to fire back at him.
It was no easy task. There has been some grumbling in the black community that the first African-American president was taking the last-hired and first-fired community for granted. That sentiment grew stronger this summer after Obama sent Vice President Joe Biden to address the National Association of Black Journalists and the NAACP. So Obama arrived in New Orleans for the annual Urban League meetup possibly fearing that African Americans might not show up in large enough numbers at the polling booths in November.
The president's speech to the venerable civil rights organization hit on the three most critical challenges in the black community -- violence, education and jobs -- while deftly managing to broaden the scope enough so that conservatives wouldn't have an easy shot at labeling his remarks as for blacks only.
With the exception of announcing that, by executive order, he was 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," the president's speech was pretty much all-American for all Americans.
The POTUS ticked off measures his administration has done to help black students, such as increasing Pell Grants and pushing colleges and universities to cut their costs. But imbedded in those boasts was an unspoken truth: This is good for the rest of our fellow citizens, too.
The same tactic was employed for jobs. "We don't believe government should be in the business of helping people that refuse to help themselves, and we recognize that not every government program works," Obama said. "But we do expect hard work to pay off. We do expect responsibility to be rewarded. We do expect that if you put in enough effort you should be able to find a job that pays off."
Obama also deftly merged the Urban League's mission of equal opportunity into values of the middle class, where prosperity should be broad-based. But in speaking about the tragedies brought on by the senseless deaths from gun violence Obama really integrated his message. "Violence plagues the biggest cities but it also plagues the smallest town," he said. "It claims the lives of Americans of different ages and different races, and it's tied together by the fact that these young people had dreams and had futures that were cut tragically short."
The president spoke of praying for the victims of the massacre in Aurora, Colo.: "We also pray for those who succumb to less publicized acts of violence that plague our communities in so many cities across the country every day. We can't forget about that." Obama's sleight of hand was not just a black-and-white narrative. He delicately drilled deeper into the gun-violence plague without once mentioning gun control.
"I also believe, like other Americans, that AK-47s belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities," he said. Then he went on to say he was going to talk to members of the House and Senate to seek "a consensus around violence reduction." That was another hidden message. I read it as this: "We all know all this gun violence is insane, but I can't afford to rile up the gun nuts right now. I've got an election to win."
Cyber columnist Monroe Anderson is a veteran Chicago journalist who has written signed op-ed-page columns for both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and executive-produced and hosted his own local CBS TV show. He was also the editor of Savoy Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.