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President Obama’s black jobs dilemma

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 8/23/2011, 1:04 p.m.

President Obama’s black jobs dilemma

Congresswoman Maxine Waters minced no words when she said that members of the Congressional Black Caucus are “frustrated” and impatient that President Barack Obama is not doing enough to tackle the crisis problem of black unemployment.

This is hardly the first time that Waters and other members of the caucus have gently chided Obama on the jobs issue. But this time their criticism has taken on even greater angst, with a tinge of antagonism to boot. The unemployment lines have gotten longer, the time that the unemployed have been unemployed has stretched out from weeks to months with little end in sight, and many major businesses have flatly said they’re not hiring.

Worst of all, Congress has made it clearer that it will pinch pennies even tighter, and that means even less likelihood for increased federal spending on job creation initiatives. This drastically narrows the president’s options, and even though he’ll propose a jobs bill in September, almost certainly it will have little chance of getting around the Scrooge mindset in Congress.

And it’s equally certain that his proposals will be race neutral and not specifically single out blacks for special spending initiatives and programs. This is in keeping with his firm position that spending more on jobs for all will help blacks, since they are the neediest and the hardest hit among the jobless.

This line won’t fly with many in the Congressional Black Caucus and many blacks who demanded that Obama roll his job tour buses and economic forums through Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles and other hard hit inner cities neighborhoods. But there was never much likelihood of that.

Obama’s eye is firmly set on re-election. And he can’t and won’t (publicly at least) depart from the race neutral formula that got him into the White House. He’s walking too fine a line to take that chance.     

Obama operates on the same principle that Democratic presidential candidates and presidents have operated on for the last three decades and that is to avoid like the plague the perception that Democrats inherently tilt toward the poor and minorities — but especially minorities — on policies and initiatives.

This political cross weighs even heavier on Obama. He would have had no hope of winning the Democratic presidential nomination, let alone the presidency, if there had been any sense among white independents that he embraced the alleged race-tinged politics of Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. His campaign would have been marginalized and compartmentalized as merely the politics of racial symbolism.

Polls continually show that he’s lost major support among white voters, and the sharpest drop has been among moderate and conservative white independent voters. They provided his margin for victory in 2008. No Democratic president, in this case him, or GOP presidential challenger can win without significant backing from them.

The slightest hint that Obama is tilting toward African American voters with a big, bold and aggressive jobs plan, or other special programs that primarily target blacks, would likely blow any chance that he had of winning a significant number of independents back in 2012. It’s just too risky.