Addressing a potentially explosive racial issue, President Obama is defending his refusal to develop an agenda designed specifically to help African Americans.
"I want all Americans to have opportunity," he told Black Enterprise Magazine. "I'm not the president of black America. I'm the president of the United States of America." When asked about criticism that he hasn't done enough to help minority-owned businesses, he said, "The programs that we have put in place have been directed at those folks who are least able to get financing through conventional means, who have been in the past locked out of opportunities that were available to everybody."
Obama, the first African American president, has been under pressure from some black activists to ease severe problems in the African American community such as unemployment, which is about 14 percent, far higher than the national rate of 8.3 percent. Another problem that African Americans want Obama to address is the high rate of incarceration for black men.
But he has consistently resisted calls for any type of "black agenda." In the Black Enterprise interview, published in the magazine's current issue, he added: "I'll put my track record up against anybody in terms of us putting in place broad-based programs that ultimately had a huge benefit for African American businesses."
In an interview for my 2011 book Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House, Obama made similar points. "The legacy I hope to leave is a more prosperous, more secure, more confident America," he told me. "And if that happens, then I think you're also going to see continued improvement in race relations in this country."
He added: "My main goal is to be the best possible president and help to put the country on the best possible track going forward. If I do that, then a couple of things will have happened. It means our education system is going to be fixed and so more kids are going to be having opportunities to excel and compete in the 21st Century economy, and that means there are going to be a whole bunch of black and brown kids who are doing well who otherwise wouldn't be.
"If I succeed, then it means that we'll have a health-care system that provides basic health care for every American, and a whole bunch of folks who don't have it. including a whole bunch of blacks and Hispanics, will then have it.
"If I succeed, the economy will have been growing, and our history indicates that when the economy is growing and people feel good about their prospects, that social tensions diminish."
Obama's refusal to develop a black agenda could conceivably depress turnout among some African Americans for his re-election this fall. But his popularity among black voters appears to be holding up. Recent polls show that his approval rating among African Americans exceeds 90 percent.
And Democratic strategists say that developing a specific black agenda would alienate many whites who oppose such special treatment.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.