Leaders leave real black issues out in the cold at White House

OPINION - Black leaders still insist the president's travails are born of process and not of substance...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

The blizzard gripping much of the Northeast on Wednesday could be considered an apt metaphor for the conditions that mire President Obama’s policy agenda at the start of his second year in office. Among the gauntlet of concerns the president must navigate include a struggling economy which continues to shed private-sector jobs at an alarming rate.

With a surge in African-American joblessness – currently hovering above 15 percent – as a backdrop, three prominent black civic leaders journeyed to the White House for a face-to-face meeting with Obama on the topic. NAACP President Benjamin T. Jealous, National Urban League President Marc H. Morial and National Action Network President Rev. Al Sharpton all journeyed to the White House to address what they called the “disproportionate” burden urban communities are bearing during this jobless recovery.

But if the collegial tone employed by the men after their meeting was any indication, the president’s ineffectual economic policies may continue unchallenged. That would be regrettable, because the very people who ought to hold him accountable appear more interested in positioning themselves as his chief apologists.

During a conference call with reporters, Jealous, Morial and Sharpton explained the details of the action plan they presented to Obama – but also went out of their way to soften their criticism of the president. Sharpton credited Obama with “stabilizing” the economy, but fell back on a recurring meme: recounting the problems “inherited” from the president’s predecessor. Naturally, all three carped about Republican “obstructionism” that has derailed the president’s agenda, even as the Democrats enjoyed Congressional super-majorities until just recently.

With the possible exception of Congressman John Conyers, who has been increasingly vocal in his criticism of Obama, black leaders still insist the president’s travails are born of process and not of substance. Facts, however, are stubbornly immune to wishful thinking. Process is not the White House’s problem: it’s the lackluster impact of poorly considered policy.

It has been a year since President Obama shepherded a $787 billion (or rather, an $862 billion) stimulus package through to passage in Congress; yet the private sector continues to hemorrhage jobs. The failure of the first stimulus bill has been magnified by talk of a second one currently being debated in Washington. And the Democrats’ inability to make headway on the economy has led the public to view Republicans in a comparatively favorable light as the president’s standing in the polls has fallen sharply.

The president entered office with enormous popularity, but foolishly expended his political capital on a misguided health care effort that did nothing to address the pressing question of economic growth, and has grown steadily more unpopular with each passing day. Meanwhile, his prescriptions for the economy have been ineffective at best and damaging to the economy at worst.

It is well past time for black leaders to acknowledge President Obama’s failure to foster a climate favorable to job creation, and they need stop running interference for the White House’s increasingly ineffectual policies. Confabs such as those seen on Wednesday invariably devolve into back-patting sessions that assuage Obama’s ego – and allow him to maintain political support with blacks – without holding him to the same standards of every other policymaker in Washington.