After all of the excitement of November 4, 2008, and the celebrations of January 23, 2009, the real work has begun for President Barack Obama and he is at his first significant milestone: 100 days in office. Let us begin by admitting up front that there is nothing particularly special about the first one hundred days of a presidency unless, God forbid, there is some national emergency or tragedy. Day 100 has no more meaning than Day 101 except that a media obsessed nation needs something to hold its attention. Nevertheless, we will go for the ride and give our assessment on Mr. Obama’s first full three months in the Oval Office.
The President should be commended for the caliber of individuals he has selected to be in his administration. His appointments who are Black are highly capable, accomplished and seasoned professionals who will serve him well. It is a source of tremendous pride in our community to see a new cadre of Black public servants who are serving in this presidential administration. We are confident they will provide good counsel to President Obama while also serving as positive role models for Black youth.
No one can accuse President Obama of playing it safe. To his credit, he dived right in and began his tenure confronting an economic crisis of historic proportion. He stood on his word and delivered an economic stimulus package that only time will tell whether it truly jumpstarts the economy. Still, even without a final assessment, the President deserves credit for confronting the crisis head on. At the same time the jury is still out on his leadership in salvaging the nation’s financial and auto sectors; two key segments of our economy that are teetering on collapse. His fourth down mandate to Chrysler and General Motors, to shape up or file Chapter 11, though demonstrating decisiveness on the part of the President, also demonstrated the difficulty Mr. Obama has faced reining in the most troubled aspects of the economy.
President Obama should also be commended for taking on the mortgage crisis and putting forth a plan to help homeowners struggling to make mortgage payments avoid foreclosure. There is perhaps nothing more personal than one’s home and many Americans are now at risk of losing their most treasured possession. We also encourage the President to take aggressive steps to protect renters who are being impacted by foreclosures. Many Blacks are in the rental market and find they are vulnerable to eviction as multi-unit developments are foreclosed. We must make certain that individuals who rent properties are protected during this economic downturn, including from rent hikes by unscrupulous property owners.
The President also receives high marks for addressing the issue of college affordability. Too many young adults are burdened with tremendous debt trying to pay the costs of a college education. At a time when it is clear we need their intellectual capital for our nation’s economic security, we should make every effort to make a college education affordable and accessible. No one in this country should be denied an education for lack of money. Likewise, we are encouraged by efforts to address predatory lenders on college campuses who lock college students into high interest credit cards. Before many of our young people even have a chance to start a career, they are faced with credit card debt and poor credit scores resulting from their inability to pay.
We also give President Obama credit for denouncing the use of torture by American intelligence agents in the interrogation of terrorist suspects. We applaud his taking a moral stand but at the same time are concerned that the manner in which he addressed the practice might ultimately compromise his own administration. The hard truth is that this is not as “black and white” as it seems on paper. Sadly, the previous administration, pushed by former Vice President Dick Cheney, appears to have made torture a first option rather than a last resort for circumstances where our national security was clearly at risk. It is questionable whether the nation was any safer under the last administration with the use of such harsh tactics, although supporters of the Bush regime will quickly point to the absence of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil as evidence that the techniques worked. Though he has indicated his unwillingness to prosecute those responsible for the leaked intelligence report, he may face resistance on Capitol Hill as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle seek an opportunity to vent.
We believe President Obama erred in deciding to boycott the recent United Nations conference on racism. Despite the histrionics of the Iranian president, an act that the White House should have expected to be performed, the conference would have provided the international community with real evidence that our nation is charting a new course. By skipping the event in Geneva, the President went back on his word during the campaign that he would be willing to speak to and listen to our adversaries. If our nation is to play a constructive role in world affairs, we must be willing to abandon old conventions that prevented our engaging other nations on core differences revolving around race and ethnicity. As a nation that prides itself on its constitutional authorship of “free speech,” we should never shirk from a debate, even when the ideas expressed do not jibe with our sensibilities.
We are also concerned that the President’s efforts to create an “Urban Czar” have been delayed and perhaps put on the back burner. Since the announcement that Bronx, New York Borough President Adolfo Carrion was selected for the post, we have heard little about progress in his office. Given the state of America’s cities, and the impact conditions in urban centers have on Black progress, we hope the President will turn his attention to this appointment and use his incredible moral persuasion to bring urban issues to the forefront of the national debate.
One area that we hope President Obama will address is the plight of Black males and boys in our nation. The statistics have long past crisis stage and the prognosis is grim for many Black men and young adults. With each passing month the Bureau of Labor statistics employment data shows how deeply Black males have been affected by the current recession. If some significant, far-reaching measure targeting this population is not offered soon, we will truly have an emergency of immense proportion in the Black community. The combination of joblessness, lack of education and imprisonment among Black men, is a recipe for disaster. We hope President Obama will take up the call of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and create a White House Council on Men and Boys. If white males in this nation faced similar difficulties, little time would be wasted in marshaling the resources to address the challenge.
Overall, we give President Obama a B for his job performance during his first 100 days in office. From this point on, we stop counting days and focus on the important work at hand to rejuvenate our nation’s economy and create a more inclusive environment in which Black Americans will be full participants.