President Obama To Black Supporters: 'We'll Get Through These Tough Times'
President Barack Obama told a gathering of African-American supporters convened at the White House to keep their spirits high and that "we have been through tougher times before."
"Our parents have been through tougher times; our grandparents have been through tougher times. We know tough times," Obama said during a surprise appearance at the African-American Policy in Action Leadership Conference, the first of its kind dedicated to policy and the black community. "And what we also know, though, is that if we are persistent, if we are unified, and we remain hopeful, then we'll get through these tough times and better days lie ahead."
With the 2012 presidential election season quickly heating up and a more aggressive push by the Obama administration to energize and engage African-American voters, who analysts say will be key to the president's bid for reelection, the White House has launched a campaign to tout policies it says have positively affected blacks. The conference coincides with the release of a White House report, "The President's Agenda And The African American Community," which highlighted a number of the president's initiatives in the areas of minority business, health care and education.
The conference included community leaders and policy makers from across the country, as well as several cabinet-level officials. The conference is the latest move by the administration to corral minority supporters. Similar conferences were held for Hispanics and Native Americans in recent months.
And in September, the Obama campaign launched Operation Vote, described as a "campaign within a campaign" aimed at minority voters, including African Americans, Latinos, Jews and the LGBT community.
While the most vocal of the president's black detractors, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have muted much of their criticism over what they see as the president's inattention to the abysmal black unemployment rate, the administration has ramped up its efforts to reach out to minority voters. Washington insiders said that early in Obama's term the White House failed to craft a message that resonated with black voters.
"We spent the first few years really working hard and drilling down and coming up with many of the initiatives" that have helped buoy the economy and those most affected by the down recession, said Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, during a conference call yesterday. "Now it's important to tell our story. We have a great record and have made enormous strides, but we still have a way to go."
Many analysts wondered over the summer whether Obama might be losing his appeal among black voters, who were suffering double-digit unemployment rates and a staggering loss of wealth. But more recent polls suggest that loyalty to the president remains strong among blacks.
During today's conference, Obama said that "enormous challenges" remain:
"Many of the challenges that existed before the crisis have been worsened with respect to opportunities for decent housing, with respect to making sure that our schools are equipped to prepare our kids for the 21st century. But the report that has been prepared ... I think is a compilation of everything we've done over the last three years that has not only lessened the severity of the crisis for millions of people, kept millions of folks out of poverty, made sure that millions of folks still had unemployment benefits, health care, et cetera, but also talks about the foundations that we are laying. So that as the economy recovers, the African-American community and communities all across the country of every stripe are going to have an opportunity to finally begin to rebuild so that we are seeing good, solid, middle-class jobs with good benefits, that families who are desperate for their piece of the American Dream, that they’re going to be able to achieve it."
Obama then elaborated on efforts to help black business owners, the virtues of his yet-to-be-passed American Jobs Act and the imperative to find ways to help those in need, with or without Congress' help.
The president urged his supporters to stay unified in the struggle to lift the community out of the tough economic times.
"So I just want everybody to participate here in a spirit of persistence, determination and unity. And if you maintain that spirit, then I'm confident that not only will African-American community emerge from these difficult economic times stronger than we were before, but this entire nation is going to come out more unified, better equipped to deal with the challenges of the 21st century than we were before," he said.
The full transcript of the president's remarks during the White House's African American Policy In Action Leadership Conference can be found on the next page.