The optics of leaving Washington during budget talks aren’t great, even if the cause is worthwhile. And if you’re able to shore up some votes in the process, well, hey, 2012 is starting early this year. Last night, President Obama was wiling to risk the blowback to speak at a twentieth-anniversary gala for Al Sharpton’s National Action Network to talk about “the civil rights issue of our time”: education inequality. In his first trip outside the capital since announcing his reelection bid, Obama spoke to a crowd of 600 celebrities, including Bill Cosby, Spike Lee, David Dinkins, and Magic Johnson, as well as administration officials like Attorney General Eric Holder, before jetting back for a critical budget meeting with John Boehner and Harry Reid. It’s a clear sign of how important African-American voters are to his reelection. Or as talking heads are likely to put it, He cares more about black people than saving America. Birthers should feel free to tack, and we know why onto to the end of that.
After congratulating Sharpton on two decades of activism and weight loss (“I told Rev. Al backstage he’s getting skinnier than me”), and asking the crowd to think about what they could do for their country, the president segued into vamping about his own struggles with student loans, which he says he was paying off until a few years ago.
“It’s true, I don’t pump gas now, but I remember what it was like pumping gas. I remember!” he said to laughter and applause.
“I remember the end of the month. I remember that,” he said, in apparent reference to a ritual that plagues millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck.
“We appreciate you all buying the book, Michelle and I,” Obama added, to loud laughter.
The only way the president can afford to send his girls to college is with two best-selling books? Not the best note to end a speech about education inequality.