President Obama said it’s ‘a handful’ of black leaders who have been critical of his administration, and that some of them have been critical since he was running for president.
The president’s remarks came in an exclusive interview BET’s Emmett Miller Monday night.
The comments seemed aimed at a vocal group of black Democrats in Congress – many of whom supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries in 2007 and 2008 — who have chided the president for not directly addressing African-Americans with his policies and rhetoric.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, led by Rep. Maxine Waters, have directed pointed comments at the president during and after the CBC’s week-long “for the people” jobs tour. And Waters on Monday said of the president’s fiery speech at the CBC’s Phoenix Awards gala, in which he called on black leaders to take off their “bedroom slippers” and put on their marching shoes” and get behind his latest jobs push, “I don’t know who he’s talking about.”
During the wide-ranging interview, the president said many black communities “have been hurting a long time,” and that while it’s natural for people to focus their anxiety on the president, “What I think you’re seeing all across the board in every community is that when unemployment is high and people are having a tough time, then they have to feel as if there’s some hope, there’s some prospects out there. And right now, the economy has been bad for a long time. It was bad before I got elected, and it has continued to be very tough for a lot of folks.”
Obama acknowledged that his administration did not anticipate the depth of the economic crisis he encountered upon entering office, and the need to help Americans understand how long the road to recovery could be. “if I traveled back in time? I would say it’s going to be a long hard slog and the American people are going to feel kind of worn down after this much difficulty,” he said. “But I’d also tell that less gray person to hang in there because the American people are resilient and they have good values and they care about the right stuff, and we’ll get through this.
Asked by Miller what he would tell a hard-hit African-American single mother on the south side of Chicago who was jobless and concerned that the president “won’t even say, ‘look, I am going to help you,” Obama pushed back on the premise, saying that’s not what people are telling him as he travels the country stumping for his American Jobs Act.
“What people are saying all across the country is we are hurting and we’ve been hurting for a long time,” the president said. “And the question is how can we make sure the economy is working for every single person.”
Saying targeting one specific group is “not how America works,” Obama emphasized that his policies were aimed at those who are hurting the most, whether because of a lack of healthcare coverage or a lack of a job, adding that because African-Americans are suffering disproportionately on those fronts, his policies were in fact designed to help black communities.
But the president continued to emphasize that his policies were designed to help every American.
“What has always made this country great is the belief that everybody has got a chance,” Obama said. “Regardless of race, regardless of creed.”
As to how his economic policies should be judged by black Americans, the president said “the test is not going to be whether we solve this problem overnight. The test is are we projecting a vision for the future that is going to be one that makes sure
that every kid in this country has a shot and that the middle class is still growing and the African-American middle class is growing. Because look, the fact of the matter is that it is a test for America how well those at the bottom do, not just how well those at the top do.”
The president said he expects some of his Jobs Act plan to pass, and that if Congress fails to act on the economy, “then we’ll get a new Congress.”
Read more at BET.com.