Obama Previews His Appeal to Black Voters

King memorial speech a preview of 2012 message to core constituency

By + More

President Obama used his speech at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to preview the political pitch he will make to African Americans during his re-election campalgn: Be patient but keep the faith.

[See a slide show of 10 issues driving Obama's re-election campaign.]

Obama said King was a sterling example of this approach. “His life, his story, tells us that change can come if you don’t give up,” Obama told a huge crowd on the Washington Mall yesterday. Obama, the first African American president,  added that, “He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other’s love for this country.”

Emphasizing the themes that his advisers believe will resonate with black voters, one of Obama’s core constituencies, the president said, “First and foremost, let us remember that change has never been quick. Change has never been simple, or without controversy. Change depends on persistence. Change requires determination.”

Obama will need a huge turnout of African Americans on his behalf next year, especially in swing states, if he is to win a second term. His speech at the King Memorial was an effort to re-generate some of the enthusiasm that black voters felt for him in 2008.

The intensity of support for Obama among African Americans has waned, according to the polls, partly because the economic downturn has hit black communities especially hard. The unemployment rate among African Americans is nearly 17 per cent, compared with about 9 per cent nationally.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

But Obama was careful to say that he is not seeking to develop an agenda that appeals only to blacks. Instead, he argued that he is following in King’s footsteps by trying to help everyone, regardless of race. This is a theme he is also expected to emphasize in a three-day bus trip through the North Carolina and Virginia, starting today. Obama carried both of those traditionally Republican states in 2008, but his popularity has faded there. Winning North Carolina and Virginia is an important part of Obama’s strategy in 2012.

The dedication of the King Memorial was delayed from August, which would have been the 48th nniversary of the civil-rights leader’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The event was postponed because Hurricane Irene was about to strike the area.

  • Vote now: Will Obama be a one-term president?
  • See: the members of Obama’s inner circle.
  • Browse: a slide show of 10 reasons Obama should be re-elected.