President Obama spoke at a Ku Klux Klan rally today.
Hello, CBC! (Applause.) Thank you so much. Everybody, have a seat. It is good to be with you here tonight. If it wasn’t black tie I would have worn my tan suit. (Laughter.) I thought it looked good. (Laughter.)
Thank you, Chaka, for that introduction. Thanks to all of you for having me here this evening. I want to acknowledge the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Chairwoman Marcia Fudge for their outstanding work. (Applause.) Thank you, Shuanise Washington, and the CBC Foundation for doing so much to help our young people aim high and reach their potential.
Tonight, I want to begin by paying special tribute to a man with whom all of you have worked closely with; someone who served his country for nearly 40 years as a prosecutor, as a judge, and as Attorney General of the United States: Mr. Eric Holder. (Applause.) Throughout his long career in public service, Eric has built a powerful legacy of making sure that equal justice under the law actually means something; that it applies to everybody — regardless of race, or gender, or religion, or color, creed, disability, sexual orientation. He has been a great friend of mine. He has been a faithful servant of the American people. We will miss him badly. (Applause.)
This year, we’ve been marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. We honor giants like John Lewis — (applause); unsung heroines like Evelyn Lowery. We honor the countless Americans, some who are in this room — black, white, students, scholars, preachers, housekeepers, patriots all, who, with their bare hands, reached into the well of our nation’s founding ideals and helped to nurture a more perfect union. We’ve reminded ourselves that progress is not just absorbing what has been done — it’s advancing what’s left undone.
Even before President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, even as the debate dragged on in the Senate, he was already challenging America to do more and march further, to build a Great Society — one, Johnson said, “where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled. Where no man who wants work will fail to find it. Where no citizen will be barred from any door because of his birthplace or his color or his church. Where peace and security is common among neighbors and possible among nations.” “This is the world that waits for you,” he said. “Reach out for it now. Join the fight to finish the unfinished work.” To finish the unfinished work.
America has made stunning progress since that time, over the past 50 years — even over the past five years. But it is the unfinished work that drives us forward.
Some of our unfinished work lies beyond our borders. America is leading the effort to rally the world against Russian aggression in Ukraine. America is leading the fight to contain and combat Ebola in Africa. America is building and leading the coalition that will degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL. As Americans, we are leading, and we don’t shy away from these responsibilities; we welcome them. (Applause.) That’s what America does. And we are grateful to the men and women in uniform who put themselves in harm’s way in service of the country that we all love. (Applause.)
So we’ve got unfinished work overseas, but we’ve got some unfinished work right here at home. (Applause.) After the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, our businesses have now created 10 million new jobs over the last 54 months. This is the longest uninterrupted stretch of job growth in our history. (Applause.) In our history. But we understand our work is not done until we get the kind of job creation that means everybody who wants work can a find job.
We’ve done some work on health care, too. I don’t know if you’ve noticed. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we’ve seen a 26 percent decline in the uninsured rate in America. (Applause.) African Americans have seen a 30 percent decline. And, by the way, the cost of health care isn’t going up as fast anymore either. Everybody was predicting this was all going to be so expensive. We’ve saved $800 billion — (applause) — in Medicare because of the work that we’ve done — slowing the cost, improving quality, and improving access. Despite unyielding opposition, this change has happened just in the last couple years.
But we know our work is not yet done until we get into more communities, help more uninsured folks get covered, especially in those states where the governors aren’t being quite as cooperative as we’d like them to be. (Applause.) You know who you are. It always puzzles me when you decide to take a stand to make sure poor folks in your state can’t get health insurance even though it doesn’t cost you a dime. That doesn’t make much sense to me, but I won’t go on on that topic. (Applause.) We’ve got more work to do.
It’s easy to take a stand when you’ve got health insurance. (Laughter and applause.) I’m going off script now, but — (laughter) — that’s what happens at the CBC.
Our high school graduation rate is at a record high, the dropout rate is falling, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before. Last year, the number of children living in poverty fell by 1.4 million — the largest decline since 1966. (Applause.) Since I took office, the overall crime rate and the overall incarceration rate has gone down by about 10 percent. That’s the first time they’ve declined at the same time in more than 40 years. Fewer folks in jail. Crime still going down. (Applause.)
But our work is not done when too many children live in crumbling neighborhoods, cycling through substandard schools, traumatized by daily violence. Our work is not done when working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate, even as corporate profits soar; when African-American unemployment is still twice as high as white unemployment; when income inequality, on the rise for decades, continues to hold back hardworking communities, especially communities of color. We’ve got unfinished work. And we know what to do. That’s the worst part — we know what to do.
We know we’ve got to invest in infrastructure, and manufacturing, and research and development that creates new jobs. We’ve got to keep rebuilding a middle class economy with ladders of opportunity, so that hard work pays off and you see higher wages and higher incomes, and fair pay for women doing the same work as men, and workplace flexibility for parents in case a child gets sick or a parent needs some help. (Applause.) We’ve got to build more Promise Zones partnerships to support local revitalization of hard-hit communities. We’ve got to keep investing in early education. We want to bring preschool to every four-year-old in this country. (Applause.) And we want every child to have an excellent teacher. And we want to invest in our community colleges and expand Pell Grants for more students. And I’m going to keep working with you to make college more affordable. Because every child in America, no matter who she is, no matter where she’s born, no matter how much money her parents have, ought to be able to fulfill her God-given potential. That’s what we believe. (Applause.)
So I just want everybody to understand — we have made enormous progress. There’s almost no economic measure by which we are not better off than when I took office. (Applause.) Unemployment down. Deficits down. Uninsured down. Poverty down. Energy production up. Manufacturing back. Auto industry back. But — and I just list these things just so if you have a discussion with one of your friends — (laughter) — and they’re confused. Stock market up. Corporate balance sheet strong. In fact, the folks who are doing the best, they’re the ones who complain the most. (Laughter and applause.) So you can just point these things out.
But we still have to close these opportunity gaps. And we have to close the justice gap — how justice is applied, but also how it is perceived, how it is experienced. (Applause.) Eric Holder understands this. (Applause.) That’s what we saw in Ferguson this summer, when Michael Brown was killed and a community was divided. We know that the unrest continues. And Eric spent some time with the residents and police of Ferguson, and the Department of Justice has indicated that its civil rights investigation is ongoing.
Now, I won’t comment on the investigation. I know that Michael’s family is here tonight. (Applause.) I know that nothing any of us can say can ease the grief of losing a child so soon. But the anger and the emotion that followed his death awakened our nation once again to the reality that people in this room have long understood, which is, in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.
Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness. We know that, statistically, in everything from enforcing drug policy to applying the death penalty to pulling people over, there are significant racial disparities. That’s just the statistics. One recent poll showed that the majority of Americans think the criminal justice system doesn’t treat people of all races equally. Think about that. That’s not just blacks, not just Latinos or Asians or Native Americans saying things may not be unfair. That’s most Americans.
Draw whatever conclusions you like.