Perhaps the initiative that has received the most attention is the president’s My Brother’s Keeper program, which pledged $200 million in private funding over five years to promote black male educational achievement and excellence. Obama’s relationship with the program is at once deeply personal and political. Inspired in part by the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death, Obama described the nation’s commitment to black male youths as “a moral issue” for America.
“We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is,” Obama observed after citing a litany of negative statistics regarding black boys’ experiences in school and the criminal-justice system.
Obama’s approach to these issues underscores the challenge of addressing the structural problems of unemployment, poverty and institutional racism within the limits of presidential power and without corresponding legislative victories.
Critics rightfully point out the numerous mistakes in strategy and tactics that roiled the president’s first term, despite the historic passage of the Affordable Care Act. And his inability to craft a unifying vision for a new New Deal emboldened an increasingly hysterical right wing that morphed into the modern-day tea party — a group that in the liberal and progressive imagination resembles the terrifying zombies from the television series “The Walking Dead.”
But whatever the genuine merits of such criticism, the era of sweeping legislation — at least barring some midterm election miracle — is over for now. Pragmatically, the best Obama can do over the next three years is to offer an alternative policy vision, as he recently outlined in his 2015 budget — one that stands no chance of congressional passage; sign executive orders that are as impactful as possible; and use the White House as a bully pulpit to promote a vision of American society that may wind up being fulfilled only after he has left office.