By Justin Sink
President Obama deflected criticism that he hadn't done enough to support black businesses in a magazine interview published Tuesday, saying he was "not the president of black America."
"My general view has been consistent throughout, which is that I want all businesses to succeed," Obama told Black Enterprise. "I want all Americans to have opportunity. I’m not the president of black America. I’m the president of the United States of America, but the programs that we have put in place have been directed at those folks who are least able to get financing through conventional means, who have been in the past locked out of opportunities that were available to everybody."
"I’ll put my track record up against anybody in terms of us putting in place broad-based programs that ultimately had a huge benefit for African American businesses," Obama said.
Obama went on to deflect criticism that the banking industry was still withholding loans and investment in small- and minority-owned companies after the financial crisis, despite government assistance after the 2008 financial crisis.
"It is true that once banks got back on their feet they haven’t been as aggressive in lending to small and medium-sized businesses as we would like," Obama said. "And I’ve had conversations with the major banks about this issue. What they will say is that some of the additional regulations have impeded some of their capacity to lend. We don’t see major evidence of that."
The president is looking to shore up enthusiasm among black voters, his strongest demographic in the 2008 election. In Obama's first run for the White House, young black voters turned out in greater proportions than whites for the first time, buoying the president's efforts.
But the sell is likely to be tougher in 2008, as the economy continues to struggle — and affect blacks more severely. Black unemployment in July was 14.1 percent, far exceeding the national rate of 8.3 percent.
In July, likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney made an appeal to black voters at the annual convention of the NAACP, arguing life was “worse for African-Americans in almost every way” under President Obama.
“I am running for president because I know that my policies and vision will help hundreds of millions of middle-class Americans of all races, will lift people from poverty, and will help prevent people from becoming poor. My campaign is about helping the people who need help," Romney said. "The course the president has set has not done that — and will not do that. My course will."
Still, the president remains remarkably popular among black voters. A series of polls from The Washington Post and ABC News has found the president regularly above a 90 percent approval rating with African-Americans since taking office.