After President Obama's announcement at the National Urban League convention in New Orleans yesterday of his latest executive order establishing a new White House initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, all I can say is “WOW!” For me this announcement is serendipitous. A week ago, I was in New Orleans, seeing firsthand what my often woefully undereducated African American brethren were going through in a post-Katrina era. President Obama could not have picked a better place to make this announcement if he was looking for maximum symbolic impact.
From a political standpoint, this announcement gets a double WOW from me, because on this same trip last week I finished reading the book The Obamas by Jodi Kantor, a fairly revealing behind the scenes account of our nation’s first African American First Family’s which confirmed many of observations I’ve made on this very blog about the president’s decision-making abilities. This is not a move Obama watchers would have predicted, given President Obama’s cautious nature or his controversy averse advisors. My good friend and blog buddy Michael Ross breaks it all down over at The Root:
The president's panoramic initiative joins an existing White House plan -- created during the Carter administration and fortified by an Obama executive order in February 2010 -- to strengthen the nation's HBCUs, which have been under pressure because of states' budgetary woes and less money from the federal government. The nation's 105 HBCUs are responsible for about 40 percent of the nation's African-American science graduates, as well as significant numbers of judges, doctors and entrepreneurs.
In one bold stroke, the president has underscored his oft-stated seriousness about education reform -- "a top priority of my administration," he said in February 2010 -- and offered what is likely to be seen as a rebuke to those who have criticized his administration for failing to advance any White House agenda specific to the needs of African Americans.
The president's pending executive order carving out a new role for the Education Department counters the approach of his challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who said in April that "[t]he Department of Education I will either consolidate with another agency or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller." Many on the right have opposed the agency, established under President Carter, almost from its inception in 1980.
Michael Ross “Improving Black Education by Executive Order”
But even though this announcement is as much about politics as it is about the educational inequities long suffered by African Americans, there is no need to look this gift horse in the mouth. When we left Louisiana last week, we were dumbfounded that Governor Bobby Jindal could be turning away federal money, when his state looks more like a Third World outpost than a part of the United States of America. I will probably be similarly dumbfounded in the coming days as less sanguine members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other vanity associations take to the airwaves to complain that this president should have done this back in 2009 when he first took office.
What does this executive order really mean? There isn’t time between now and November to do more than lay the groundwork for the bureaucratic infrastructure manpower necessary to implement this initiative. A Romney victory would almost certainly assure the demise of this executive order. For now, I will take it for what it is—a very powerful statement in the midst of a dogfight of a re-election campaign that is designed to give African American voters some skin in the game. In fact, when you look at the timing of this decision, with the Republican nominating convention just a few weeks away, the deliberate injection of race into an already highly charged political environment is likely to make the Romney campaign tack even farther towards the dangerous zone of right wing extremists.