Michael Gerson: Obama's race speech was needed, but it didn't go far enough

Published: Wednesday, July 24 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The problem of African-American boys and young men is a complex mix of lingering racial prejudice, urban economic dislocation, collapsing family structure, failing schools and sick, atomized communities. But is there really nothing practical that can be done? How about providing family supports — mentoring, fatherhood initiatives, teen pregnancy prevention, and removing the Earned Income Tax Credit penalty for married couples? How about strong accountability measures to close the educational achievement gap instead of granting waivers that lower standards? How about support for faith-based institutions that reclaim lives from gangs? How about prison reform, so that mandatory minimum sentences are at least reduced? How about expanding substance abuse prevention and treatment, which seem to have fallen off the national agenda?

Acknowledging a vast national division in a responsible way, as Obama has done, is not itself divisive. But healing that division will require the president to employ a presidential power he seldom uses: to drive and shape a policy debate.

Michael Gerson's email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

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