The president was presidential. He stood before a packed room of Democrats and Republicans sitting together; of elders, poor people, the elite, the military, gays, Latinos, the disabled, Asian Americans, Black Americans, White Americans, etc. The president stood tall among them all and well represented the America to which he was elected to lead.
In a superbly crafted speech, excellently and smoothly delivered, the President spoke bipartisanship. And more than merely giving it lip service and quotable quotes like, ‘if we can sit together tonight, we can work together tomorrow,’ the President served notice to both Democrats and Republicans, if a piece of earmarked legislation came to his desk, no matter which party sponsored it, he would veto it. He said that America had fallen behind the rest of the world in vital areas of competition and forward thinking, and that it would take all Americans together to ‘out-educate, out innovate, and out-create’ to not only catch up but to again restore America’s number one ranking.
He used historical and current examples of how to get that done, and said that today, right now was America’s “Sputnik moment,” referring to the 1960’s period, when Russia stunned the United States into a frenzied space race that this country was at first ill-prepared for, but which it quickly came to dominate. Mr. Obama said in the dynamism of the present, America had ‘to win the future’ through that same kind of toughness, focus, and ingenuity. And Americans had to do it together.
He extolled the need for a major revamping of the nation’s educational system, a process already moving forward, in order to produce the next generation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians and physicists. He reminded America that in South Korea, public school teachers are seen as nation builders and as completely crucial to taking that country forward.
Mr. Obama said we should adopt a similar view here. We need to recognize and honor the critical work and commitment our teachers bring to the table, as they prepare our youth. Without a phalanx of great teachers being inspired to bring energy and sparkle to our talented youth, America would simply be out-performed and out-rivaled by many other countries. He touted his Race to the Top process as the replacement for the discredited No Child Left Behind, and mentioned several examples of major gains from its implementation, including a gang-infested high school going from a more than 50 percent dropout rate to more than 97 percent graduation.
Mr. Obama talked of an America that is, and an America that can be. He talked of solving, not ignoring racial divisions, nasty partisan wrangling, and money-interest lobbying. He featured several small business owners and seniors who were benefiting from support the government was providing. Mr. Obama brought his A-game to the table and produced a transcendent moment of clarity and vision in which he echoed Kennedy, King, Carter, Reagan and Clinton, but was quintessentially himself.
He did not, however, in his speech of America inclusiveness, give a shout-out to his Black brethren. To some, that is a major faux pas worthy of taking him to the proverbial woodshed on Black talk shows and other media. To others, more mindful, watchful and wise, it was a mere pimple on the back of an elephant.
The Black community was in full effect during that speech. In a nod to the truism–a visual is worth much more than a mouthful of words–chocolate children, elders and the middle-aged were in the first rows of the balcony and on the floor. We were at the front of the bus, not the back. An African American president charmed the country, while his beautiful Black family smiled for the cameras. New U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass was one of the first to warmly embrace the president after his speech. We were everywhere the camera panned and zoomed. We were in the examples of success and moving to the future Mr. Obama used. Neglected, we were not. Our shining just came in ways unexpected for some.
In a post script to last week’s Our Weekly cover story, I had mentioned that the Black community still had mega trust in the president just doing what he was doing, although we would also ask for a little more.
The Black community will expect President Obama to increase his African policy to real constructive engagement beyond Africom and simply a second visit to a democratically stable African country in 2011. Saying the U.S. supported the grassroots uprising in Tunisia, and the recent referendum in South Sudan were important statements to that effect. The community will expect the President to continue dialoguing in-depth with the Congressional Black Congress and with members of the Black clergy, plus doing substantial outreach with Tom Joyner, Joe Madison, Ann Ryan and other communications masters way before the primaries and general election come around. The community reacts badly to disrespect and being taken for granted, no matter who on the big stage does it, so the Black community will expect a notable addition to the well-informed Black spokespeople in President Obama’s inner circle beyond Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Political Affairs Director Patrick Gaspard (of course, Mrs. Obama, a multidimensional expert, is always there too, and that’s reassuring). To insure that more Black concerns are put on the table for consideration, there must be more Black voices in the room. The community will also expect the President to get himself a high-powered marketing team to tout his administration’s good deeds. In his January 25th speech, he effectively wove some of those accomplishments within the fabric of his words. More of that will be required.
Finally, the Black community fully expects Mr. Obama to continue to be highly successful at what he does, and we will help him to do that by working on getting our own acts together. It should be some year.
Professor David L. Horne, is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or Non Governmental Organization (NGO). It is the step-parent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
DISCLAIMER: The beliefs and viewpoints expressed in opinion pieces, letters to the editor, by columnists and/or contributing writers are not necessarily those of Our Weekly.