The nation’s economy is an almost no-win proposition for President Obama, having inherited a historic recession and battered by global forces beyond the reach and understanding of domestic policy makers, the administration is in unchartered territory. Worse yet for the 44th President, the economy has stalled as his reelection efforts gear up and Republicans are poised to make President Obama’s record on job creation the issue of the 2012 campaign. Seeing the dismal poll numbers, and taking heat within his own party, the President has decided to lay out his jobs plan in a joint session of Congress on September 8. Symbolic of the hyper-partisan atmosphere in the nation’s capital, the simple scheduling of the date was caught in political crossfire as House Speaker John Boehner objected to the original White House request for Wednesday September 7, the date of a Republican presidential debate. The bickering over the mere timing of a presidential address does not bode well for the administration’s chances to gain Republican support for any major jobs initiative in advance of the election.
There is much at stake for President Obama’s address next week. It will come almost one week after the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its monthly report on employment. What is already known is that millions of Americans are mired in long-term joblessness, and African-Americans have been particularly hard hit; with Black men faring worse among adults. The issue of Black unemployment has now set off a fierce debate in some quarters of the African-American community with opposing points of view on how best to hold this administration accountable. While the President still maintains strong support within the Black electorate, recent polls have indicated growing frustration among some Black voters over the lack of progress on the jobs front. While the issue of criticizing the nation’s first Black President remains a sensitive subject within the Black community, some have taken publicly to challenging President Obama to take a more aggressive posture in tackling the jobs crisis. The Congressional Black Caucus has sponsored a number of jobs fairs around the country, drawing thousands of unemployed and giving Caucus members an opportunity to vent their frustration with the White House. Simultaneously, television personality Tavis Smiley and scholar Dr. Cornell West have embarked on a controversial “poverty tour” that has drawn the criticism of the likes of radio personality Tom Joyner, entertainer Steve Harvey and Rev. Al Sharpton. The growing restlessness within the African-American community over the economy is drawing the attention of the White House, with the President taking to the airwaves on Joyner’s nationally syndicated radio program to make his case.
At the heart of the Black debate over the economy is the issue of targeting a jobs initiative specifically toward African-Americans, a move that the White House has resisted for fear of white backlash. President Obama has been adamant that any economic recovery efforts be universal in application and has maintained that Blacks, and other minorities, will fare well once the economy begins to churn in earnest. His posture is drawing criticism against the backdrop of monthly employment reports that show Black unemployment twice that of whites, approaching Depression-like levels of long-term joblessness, and taking a devastating toll on Black men and young adult workers. The President’s “language” in his address next week will be closely monitored by many African-Americans who are calling on him to not only publicly acknowledge the crisis of Black joblessness but to also offer a prescription.
The details of the President’s plan are not fully known but it is believed to include some degree of tax cuts to spur private sector job creation and some semblance of a “public sector” jobs initiative. The issue of where jobs will be generated is the crux of the problem, practically and politically, for the White House. While some quarters of the political left are urging the President to put forth a bold, large-scale “public” jobs initiative, he faces opposition to such a move within his own party on the Hill and across the political aisle. To date, President Obama has resisted any suggestion that the government and not-for-profit sector should be drivers of new job growth and has emphasized the private sector as the means by which to resuscitate the economy. His stance puts him at odds with the “progressive” wing of his party that has been pushing the President to lean further to the left than the political cards he has been dealt may dictate. Judging by the bitter debate over the extension of the debt ceiling, the White House has its work cut out to convince Republicans in Congress to support any jobs initiative that has as its core “government” enabled employment. If such a plan is put forth, it will stand as the test of the Obama presidency whether he is willing to expend the political capital and put at risk his re-election to build public support to pressure Congress to support it.