Saying his administration has done more in the past 30 days to advance “progressive change” than has been done in many years, President Obama touted his early record to a meeting of black leaders in Los Angeles.

In remarks prepared for delivery over a video link to the 2009 “State of the Black Union” conference, Obama said that his administration’s efforts to expand health care, make college more affordable, reduce taxes for lower income Americans, and stimulate the slumping economy would make a big difference among African-Americans.

“You know that tough times for America often mean tougher times for African-Americans,” Obama said. “This recession has been no exception. The unemployment rate among black Americans is a full five points higher than the rate among Americans as a whole.”

As a candidate for president, Obama has run into some criticism for past decisions to skip the annual confabs, which are meetings of black intellectuals and opinion leaders brought together by influential talk show host Tavis Smiley. Obama skipped last year’s meeting in New Orleans, while campaigning in crucial primary states. He also missed the 2007 meeting in Virginia, which fell on the day he officially launched his presidential campaign.

After Obama missed the meetings, some critics accused him of trying to avoid directly addressing African-American concerns, for fear that it would cost him support among whites. But today Obama had only kind words for the meeting in his short remarks. “It represents an incredible opportunity to highlight not only the challenges facing the African-American community–but also the ways in which ordinary men and women are working to meet them,” he said. 

Copyright 2009  New York Times