It is clear that right wing extremists (overwhelmingly white) are intent on destroying President Barack Obama’s credibility. Increasingly however, erstwhile staunch supporters, including Blacks, are complaining that he is not the same guy they helped win the presidency.
Obama’s campaign rhetoric that resonated throughout America has long since lost its luster, partially because he has back-pedaled on principles and promises and the broad aura of hope has diminished substantially, even among Blacks. As this column warned, supporters saddled the president with unrealistic expectations; Blacks even called him a savior. The meteoric ascendance of the far- right should convince even the most naïve that America’s ethos is intact and society is anything but post racial.
The campaign to discredit Obama started early. In Dr. Maulana Karenga’s words, the effort really served “as a shield against social claims, portrayed (demands for justice and equity) as out of touch and time, and lacked awareness of the massive changes that had been made.” He also asserted, “As the irrational reasoning goes, Obama’s presidency proves Blacks can do anything if they work hard and that America is an open society, long rid of its racist past and ready to receive at the highest levels those with ambition, ability and appropriate historical amnesia and social blindness.”
A prime example of the extreme right-wing’s calculated pushback on Obama’s agenda was its strategic attack of his healthcare reform proposal at town hall meetings across the country. Planned disruption quickly emerged, challenging Obama’s motives and credibility. Not only were participants urged to condemn the President’s reform efforts but gun-carrying vigilante types were in regular attendance at the town halls. Similar campaigns by past presidents to inform and lobby popular support for legislation and/or programs never generated the venom and disrespect displayed at those meetings, and later by the Tea Party crowd.
Another example of earlier conservative angst was the furor over Obama’s scheduled nationwide talk to school children. George W. Bush, his father and other presidents made similar appeals urging children to do well in school while presenting their education program; there was never with such venomous pushback. (George W. Bush was speaking to elementary school kids when the 9/11 attack rocked the nation.) The argument denying the primacy of race has been turned on its head by extreme right-wing elements for political gain.
White progressives are also displeased with President Obama’s performance. Their beef includes the president’s back-pedaling on government transparency, wiretapping, reversals on terrorism, Guantanamo and gay and lesbian rights, and awarding banks and mega-corporations exorbitant incentives to essentially continue operating as they have all along, with impunity.
Blacks, too, are disappointed with Obama’s penchant for over-accommodating. Actually, there was muted dissatisfaction, even during the campaign; many felt his denunciation of Rev. Jeremiah Wright was needlessly harsh. Now, more than halfway through his first term, Blacks are increasingly disappointed with the President’s reluctance to focus on issues of specific concern to the Black community.
A notable exception was Obama’s impassioned 2009 speech at the Centennial Anniversary of the NAACP, on the state of the race, in his words, “his race.” Journalist Erin Aubry Kaplan opined in a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed, “Black Like “Us,”….”Despite the NAACP audience’s euphoria over Obama’s victory and his empathy for the commitment and victories of the historical NAACP, the fate of Black folk is far from certain and is, in some ways, less secure than at any time in the last 100 years. Obama understands that his singular success, far from pointing to a post-racial America, illustrates collective Black failure like nothing else. As usual, leadership on the crisis in Black is up to us. Now, all we have to do is figure out who ‘us’ is.”
Los Angeles Sentinel columnist Eric L. Watree, Sr. personally suffered Obama’s shifting: Initially, he eschewed criticism of Obama but later felt that far left pundits hadn’t gone far enough. Watree’s An Open Letter to Obama expresses his disappointment with what he calls Obama’s “failure to counteract the GOP’s mindless aggression through kindness…….you are cowarding (sic) in the corner while they are encouraging insurrection…….They’re ignoring your accomplishments, portraying your assets as liabilities and you’re too busy trying to make friends to fight back.”
Obama’s conundrum is Blacks’ conundrum. Not only are more and more Blacks acknowledging that the President is not a savior but they worry that he could turn out to be an exceptionally charismatic, brilliant politician who, like other presidents, did not properly address their concerns. A worst case scenario is that Obama’s leadership fails to reflect the hope and vision he so eloquently articulated and rendered him a breed apart.
This double-edged conundrum won’t change unless and until Black leadership shifts to a group orientation (rather than their accustomed individualistic approach) and the Obama Administration, as it does for others, focuses on the specific needs of the Black community.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.