When the politics or the visuals seem a little dicey, President Obama is showing no hesitation in dispatching Vice President Joseph R. Biden or Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to speak to groups he would rather not address himself.
Last week, Mr. Obama sent Mr. Biden to speak to the National Education Association’s 7,000-plus delegates, disappointing one of the country’s largest unions and the earliest labor group to endorse him last year.
Despite a full-color photo of Mr. Obama in the NAACP program for this year’s national convention touting him as a speaker, it is Mr. Biden who plans to travel to Houston for the annual gathering this week.
Republican Mitt Romney will speak to the civil rights group Wednesday, but the first black president isn’t attending.
Mr. Obama’s decision to skip the annual gatherings of some key constituencies during the critical months of a difficult re-election campaign could be a risky political move, especially considering that his ability to knit together a patchwork of advocacy groups was crucial to his 2008 victory.
But, as the president has found, it’s not easy to be all things to all people or all groups.
Despite the early NEA endorsement, the president and the teachers union have not always seen eye to eye.
For the past two years, Mr. Obama has spoken favorably of performance-based pay for teachers, as well as the Race to the Top program, both of which the union eschews. But he also has helped wrestle massive stimulus programs through Congress, and a great majority of the $100 billion in education stimulus funds went to support teachers’ jobs and programs such as Title I grants for underprivileged communities and students.
The convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will focus on some of the group’s main concerns, including economic opportunity and voter-suppression efforts that the organization feels are aimed at blacks. Even though NAACP leaders are disappointed by Mr. Obama’s decision not to attend, they are putting ona good face.
“We are honored to welcome Vice President Joe Biden to our convention,” NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement. “This is an important election year and communities of color will play a huge role in deciding the outcome in any number of races across the country. As such, we are pleased that both major political parties will be represented at this year’s convention.”
NAACP less relevant?
Mr. Obama’s absence from the six-day meeting in Houston is particularly conspicuous in a year in which his success in key battleground states such as Virginia (where Mr. Obama will be campaigning the two days after the NAACP convention closes), North Carolina and Ohio relies on his ability to re-create the same level of support in the black community as he did in 2008.
That year, Mr. Obama and his Republican presidential rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, both spoke to the NAACP. Mr. Obama addressed the convention again in 2009, and first lady Michelle Obama gave remarks in 2010.