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More on Jekyll and Hyde


Professor Hanson today focuses on President Obama’s Jekyll-Hyde qualities in the foreign-policy context, but there was a domestic-policy instance of it in last night’s press conference, too:

OBAMA:  Andre Showell [BET]? There you go.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

As the entire nation tries to climb out of this deep recession, in communities of color, the circumstances are far worse. The black unemployment rate, as you know, is in the double digits. And in New York City, for example, the black unemployment rate for men is near 50 percent.

My question to you tonight is given this unique and desperate circumstance, what specific policies can you point to that will target these communities and what’s the timetable for us to see tangible results?

OBAMA: Well, keep in mind that every step we’re taking is designed to help all people. But, folks who are most vulnerable are most likely to be helped because they need the most help.

So when we passed the Recovery Act, for example, and we put in place provisions that would extend unemployment insurance or allow you to keep your health insurance even if you’ve lost your job, that probably disproportionately impacted those communities that had lost their jobs. And unfortunately, the African-American community and the Latino community are probably overrepresented in those ranks.

When we put in place additional dollars for community health centers to ensure that people are still getting the help that they need, or we expand health insurance to millions more children through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, again, those probably disproportionately impact African-American and Latino families simply because they’re the ones who are most vulnerable. They have got higher rates of uninsured in their communities.

So my general approach is that if the economy is strong, that will lift all boats as long as it is also supported by, for example, strategies around college affordability and job training, tax cuts for working families as opposed to the wealthiest that level the playing field and ensure bottom-up economic growth.

And I’m confident that that will help the African-American community live out the American dream at the same time that it’s helping communities all across the country.

Now, on the Hyde hand, conservatives will obviously disagree with the substance of the proposed programs. But, on the Jekyll hand, it’s encouraging that President Obama takes such pains to emphasize that these programs are colorblind — that is, means-tested rather than race-tested — especially since the reporter was clearly inviting him to talk about what specifically he was doing for this or that racial group. This is good politics for the president, to be sure, but it is also a useful precedent for conservatives when Congress, as it always does, proposes race-based legislation (in government contracting, to give just one, recurrent example).    


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