As part of his overall effort to energize core constituencies, President Obama is reaching out to African-American leaders and activists.
On Saturday night, he spoke at the annual dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus. Obama argued that his latest jobs bill would help millions of black Americans and he asked for the audience's help. "I don't have time to feel sorry for myself," he said. "I don't have time to complain. I am going to press on. I expect all of you to march with me. ... Stop complaining. Stop grumbling. Stop crying. We are going to press on."
On Friday, he hosted a private lunch with African-American talk-radio analysts including Yolanda Adams, Michael Eric Dyson, and Joe Madison. He is expected to make a major address on race, civil rights, and poverty in mid-October at a ceremony to mark the opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall, which was postponed because of a hurricane several weeks ago.
Obama has been under rising criticism from black leaders and activists in recent months for not doing enough to help African-Americans, who have been enduring particular hardships because of the economic downturn. Unemployment among blacks has risen to nearly 17 percent, compared with 9 percent in the general population, and poverty rates among blacks are soaring.
The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, released last week, found that only 58 percent of African-Americans have "strongly favorable" views of Obama today compared with 83 percent five months ago. Political strategists don't expect many African-Americans to support the Republican presidential nominee over the first African-American president. The real question is turnout. If black turnout lags, Obama's re-election prospects will dim.
Among those pressuring Obama is Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California. She told a legislative conference sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation that Obama has been too cozy with GOP leaders and needs to confront his opponents to win passage of his agenda.. "You've got to fight," she said. "You will not win this battle without fighting," she said.
Waters added: "We love the president. We want him to be successful. But does he feel our pain? Does he understand what's going on out here?"
Obama is trying to show that he does.