Blacks are in a quandary. Increasingly, they are acknowledging that President Obama is mortal, makes mistakes and should be held accountable for his decisions. However, they will not be party to the far right-wing Republican’s and Tea Party’s unprecedented attacks denigrating the leader of this nation. The scurrilous and often profane assault is principally racially motivated but the President’s propensity for over-accommodation and backtracking on domestic and foreign policy issues tend to fuel the attacks.
Beginning with his amazingly successful presidential campaign, many of Obama’s promises have been watered down, reversed or simply allowed to die. For example, he initially pledged to close Guantanamo Bay, maintain the public option in the health bill and end Bush era tax cuts but reneged on all of these.
Harvard Law School Professor Randall Kennedy, a staunch Obama supporter, argues, “….against a drum-beat of complaint calling into question Obama’s attentiveness to Blacks that might well diminish the frequency of the support he will need for his re-election effort……..Race will ensnare Obama no matter how he proceeds……but the sobering reality is that race remains an important, persistent force in American life despite the presence of a Black family in the White House.”Kennedy’s position mirrors that of countless Blacks who feel re-electing Obama takes precedence over all else. Essentially, this is emotion-driven and these folks support him whether or not he is responsive to their concerns.
This line of reasoning has no middle ground; it uncritically defends Obama against the extreme right but eschews any other options, giving Obama total carte blanche, i.e., he need not be accountable even for transgressions against ardent supporters. This fallacious reasoning is pervasive and buttressed by a deafening silence from Black leadership.
What about the Tavis Smiley-Cornel West controversy. It seems narrow reasoning among Blacks is manifested in the virulent opposition to Smiley and West’s criticism of Obama’s performance. But should Obama really have total carte blanche? Is he above criticism simply because he is Black, of course not. I do not always agree with their assessment of the President but defend their right to express their views. Despite occasional theatrics, I resonate with West’s and Smiley’s Obama critique.
But why did they hold a town hall meeting following their nationwide poverty-examining tour at a Jewish Temple and not in the Black community? Since the twosome’s stated purpose was to observe poverty’s effect, chiefly on Blacks, choosing a Jewish Temple is curious, to say the least. What about this, Mr. Smiley and Dr. West?
President Obama’s many accomplishments, notwithstanding-the most notable being his health plan (even without the public option)-his policy decisions and apparent lack of firm resolve are problematic, especially for Black Americans. They include bailing out the banks and large corporations; minimizing the needs of those most in need; failing to focus specifically on the Black economic crisis-the nation’s most severe; extending U.S. troops presence in Afghanistan; unfailing support of Israel, and the President’s puzzling admonition at the annual 2011 Congressional Black Caucus Dinner: He said, “………Shake it off, stop complaining, stop crying, stop grumbling…..We’ve got work to do CBC.” Obama would never speak in such a manner to a Latino, LBGBT or Jewish group as they pushed to advance their respective agendas. (When asked by a reporter during a BET interview, why he doesn’t target Black Americans specifically for economic relief, Obama responded, “America doesn’t work that way.”)
President Obama has not only retained controversial Bush policies, but expanded on them. Ironically, the remnants of the civil rights movement have been muted by the perceived power of Obama’s personality and his symbolic importance as the first Black president. Former California State Senator Tom Hayden opines that Obama became president with 95% of the African American vote and support from the vast majority of people of color, young voters and white liberals. Hayden believes he did so by claiming that America was entering a post-racial era which prevented him from fully identifying with the civil rights movement. By becoming a centrist, Obama forfeited the ability to identify with progressive liberalism as well as Black’s specific concerns.
(A Washington Post/NBC news poll reports that 58% of African Americans hold a “strongly favorable view” of Barack Obama compared to 83% just a few months ago.)
None of this means that Blacks should throw President Obama under the bus but it strongly suggests they should critique his performance vis-à-vis their own collective self interests. The president too would be better served by this because, more likely, it would force him to give greater weight to the Black community’s concerns. Unfortunately, they remain at the bottom of virtually every social, political and educational index.
President Obama is not a sacrosanct icon but as the leader of this nation, he is singularly capable of significantly improving the social and economic landscape for Black Americans. We deserve no less.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.