WASHINGTON — President Obama came out swinging against Republicans in an impassioned campaign-season speech to black lawmakers last night, making an urgent appeal for the kind of grass-roots organizing that propelled the civil rights movement.
Speaking to the Congressional Black Caucus at its annual awards banquet at the Washington Convention Center, Obama said fending off the challenge from the Republicans would take a huge effort.
With the GOP hoping to regain power on Capitol Hill in the November election, the president described his adversaries as “a crowd . . . that wants to do what’s right politically, instead of what’s right — period.’’ He never named the opposing party, referring to it as “the other side.’’
“I need everybody here to go back to your neighborhoods, and your workplaces, to your churches, and barbershops, and beauty shops. Tell them we have more work to do. Tell them we can’t wait to organize. Tell them that the time for action is now,’’ Obama said in his remarks.
He also said the recession had struck “with a particular vengeance on African-American communities’’ and he defended his approach to reviving the sour economy.
Members of “the other side,’’ Obama said, “want to take us backward. We want to move America forward. In fact, they’re betting that you’ll come down with a case of amnesia. That you’ll forget about what their agenda did to this country when they were in charge. Remember, these are the folks who spent almost a decade driving the economy into a ditch. And now they’re asking for the keys back.’’
With polls showing his party facing a wide “enthusiasm gap’’ with the GOP, Obama sought to rally an important constituency in his speech.
“What made the Civil Rights Movement possible were foot soldiers like so many of you, sitting down at lunch counters and standing up for freedom. What made it possible for me to be here today are Americans throughout our history making our union more equal, making our union more just, making our union more perfect,’’ Obama said. “That’s what we need again.’’
The Black Caucus has been reeling from ethics charges against two leading members, Representatives and Democrats Charles Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California. Republicans are preparing TV ads spotlighting the cases. House trials are not expected until after the elections.
The cases complicate an already difficulty electoral landscape for Obama’s party, with polls showing Republicans energized and Democrats unenthusiastic about the vote.
A recent AP-GfK poll found that 84 percent of Republicans believe their party will take control of Congress in November; 51 percent of Democrats thought their party would keep it.
While neither party’s rank and file thinks much of politics these days, Democrats’ feelings have slumped badly. Just 26 percent said they were “excited,’’ compared with 80 percent when Obama was elected.
“This is common sense,’’ Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address yesterday. “In fact, this is the kind of proposal that Democrats and Republicans have agreed on for decades. Yet, the Republican leaders in Congress have so far said ‘no.’ ’’
At issue is a Supreme Court ruling that reversed a century-long trend of limiting the power of big money in politics by saying corporations and unions may spend heavily to influence elections.