By DeWayne Wickham
When President Obama rose to address the mostly black crowd at the Congressional Black Caucus’ awards dinner on Saturday, he knew the damage he wanted to mend with his speech extended far beyond the CBC’s 43 members and their black constituents.
Hoisted into the Oval Office three years ago by a well-crafted coalition of black, Hispanic, Asian and white voters, Obama’s message to the large gathering at the convention center, a short drive from the White House, was the opening salvo of an effort to re-energize his core supporters.
“Change,” was the mantra of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. But for many who voted for him then, the change hasn’t come fast enough — or has been missed by those who expect trumpets to blare every time Obama moves this nation closer to his goal of a more just society.
With a recent CBS News/New York Times Poll showing an 18 point gap between the enthusiasm of Democrats (26%) and Republicans (44%) for next year’s presidential election, Obama used his address to tout some of the things he has done for blacks, who have been hit hard by the current economic downturn. He pointed to the impact on blacks of the payroll tax cut he pushed through Congress for all workers; the Department of Education’s “Promise Neighborhoods,” an education-centered, community-based approach to ending poverty, and the ripple effect of his efforts to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers.
And then, invoking the memory of the civil rights struggle that made it possible for him and thousands of other blacks to obtain political office, the president told CBC members — some of whom have criticized him for not doing more to reduce a black unemployment rate that’s double that of whites — to help him beat back Republican opposition to his administration.
“Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. We’ve got to work to do,” Obama said in a rousing charge that he’ll probably repeat to other wavering supporters. And he should, if for just one compelling reason.
The president’s greatest accomplishment, which he ought to mention in every speech to his core supporters, is what he’s done to reshape the federal judiciary. Nothing is likely to have a longer lasting impact on the interests of the people who put him in office than his appointments of federal judges. Nearly half of his nominees who have been confirmed to federal judgeships are women; 21% are African American; 11% Hispanic and 7% are Asian. Less than 30% of his judicial appointments have gone to white men, who hold the lion’s share of federal judgeships.
In the more than two centuries since the U.S. Supreme Court was created just four women have won confirmation to a seat on the nation’s highest court. Half of those women were nominated by Obama. He’s put the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court and doubled the number of Asians who are currently sitting on the federal bench.
This far exceeds the percentage of women and minorities George W. Bush put on the federal bench during his two terms in the White House and increases the chances that more balanced federal courts will protect civil rights gains, abortion rights and give a fairer hearing to immigration issues.
All of this, and the fear of a Republican president watering down these important gains, should be enough to get Obama’s core constituents to stop whining and turn out in record numbers on Election Day.