- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2012

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.

Uneasy allies

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.

The rationale behind Mr. Obama’s decision to skip the convention this year isn’t clear. His campaign did not respond to an inquiry about his absence or his decision to send Mr. Biden.

Mark P. Jones, chairman of the political science department at Rice University, said Mr. Obama likely believes his time is better spent in battleground states and areas with strong concentrations of black voters instead of taking time to travel to red-state Texas to speak to a group that even some blacks have trouble embracing.

“The NAACP has some problems being relevant even among African-American voters,” Mr. Jones said. “There’s a substantial proportion that aren’t entirely satisfied with the NAACP and don’t view it as relevant as it was in the past. It’s not an omnipotent organization. The president has far more support on his own than the NAACP. … Even though he would like their support, he doesn’t need it.”

Picking his shots

Mr. Obama is planning to speak to the National Urban League, another prominent black advocacy group, at its annual meeting July 25-28 in New Orleans.

Last month, a week after announcing an immigration directive that could legalize more than 800,000 illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, the president traveled to Orlando, Fla., to make a direct appeal to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Mr. Romney appeared at the conference a day earlier in an attempt to soften the hard-line opposition to illegal immigration he espoused during the primary by pledging to loosen some restrictions on the flow of legal foreign workers.

Drawing a sharp contrast, Mr. Obama reminded the crowd of Mr. Romney’s opposition to the Dream Act, the legislation intended to put many illegal immigrant students and veterans on a path to citizenship. Congress defeated the bill with strong Republican opposition. While he opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants who came to the country as children, Mr. Romney backs the policy of granting citizenship to veterans.

In the days since, some Hispanic leaders have questioned whether Mr. Obama’s edict causes more problems than it solves by creating a class of people who are neither fully legal nor fully illegal.

As more questions about his directive surfaced, Mr. Obama subsequently skipped the League of United Latin American Citizens’ conference at Walt Disney World on June 28, sending Mr. Holder instead. Mr. Holder also appeared last weekend in Mr. Obama’s place at the National Council of La Raza Convention in Las Vegas.

Mr. Obama attended all three Hispanic conferences in 2008, but doing so this year could cost the president some independent voters by keeping the focus on the administration’s renewed push for the Dream Act.