After first-term caution, Obama dives deeper on race

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Image: Getty

During his first term, President Obama waded gingerly into the issue of race, mindful of the historic nature of his presidency while at the same time downplaying its significance.

With a couple of exceptions — criticizing a police officer who arrested a prominent black Harvard University scholar as he fumbled to open the door to his home and speaking in personal terms about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin — Obama didn’t make any big headlines on the issue early in his presidency.

But deep into his second term, Obama talks about race with a frequency and frankness that has left some black policymakers and activists cautiously optimistic about the nation’s first black president’s final years in office.

In recent weeks, the president has begun to draw the outlines for the legacy he hopes to leave on race and civil rights.

He will unveil an initiative — dubbed “My Brother’s Keeper” — on Thursday that in part focuses on reducing disproportionately high unemployment rates in the African-American and Hispanic communities. Among those likely to attend Thursday’s announcement at the White House are young men Obama met in his adopted hometown of Chicago a year ago. He bonded with the youngsters over a conversation about the problems with gangs, drugs, gun violence and substandard schools in their neighborhood.

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President Obama’s trip to Africa

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Image: AP

More pictures at Politico

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In a first, black voter turnout rate passes whites

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America’s blacks voted at a higher rate than other minority groups in 2012 and by most measures surpassed the white turnout for the first time, reflecting a deeply polarized presidential election in which blacks strongly supported Barack Obama while many whites stayed home.

Had people voted last November at the same rates they did in 2004, when black turnout was below its current historic levels, Republican Mitt Romney would have won narrowly,according to an analysis conducted for The Associated Press.


Image: J Pat Carter, AP

Census data and exit polling show that whites and blacks will remain the two largest racial groups of eligible voters for the next decade. Last year’s heavy black turnout came despite concerns about the effect of new voter-identification laws on minority voting, outweighed by the desire to re-elect the first black president.

William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, analyzed the 2012 elections for the AP using census data on eligible voters and turnout, along with November’s exit polling. He estimated total votes for Obama and Romney under a scenario where 2012 turnout rates for all racial groups matched those in 2004. Overall, 2012 voter turnout was roughly 58 percent, down from 62 percent in 2008 and 60 percent in 2004.

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Fear of a Black President

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The irony of President Barack Obama is best captured in his comments on the death of Trayvon Martin, and the ensuing fray. Obama has pitched his presidency as a monument to moderation. He peppers his speeches with nods to ideas originally held by conservatives. He routinely cites Ronald Reagan. He effusively praises the enduring wisdom of the American people, and believes that the height of insight lies in the town square. Despite his sloganeering for change and progress, Obama is a conservative revolutionary, and nowhere is his conservative character revealed more than in the very sphere where he holds singular gravity—race.

Read more from Fear of a Black President by Ta-neshi Coates of the Atlantic

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