Obama Won’t Indulge Black Frustrations

September 30th, 2011 at 12:11 pm | 19 Comments |

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When it comes to issues of race, the nation’s first black president makes us question one of the hoariest axioms in American politics: If both the left and the right are mad at you, are you doing something right?

On September 29th, Politico documented rising criticism of a weekend speech Obama gave to the Congressional Black Caucus, during which he beseeched his audience to: “Stop complainin’! Stop grumblin’! Stop cryin’!” Putting aside for the moment the condescendin’ g-droppin’, the performance has drawn sharp rebuke from figures ranging from Tavis Smiley to emerging gadfly Maxine Waters.

An unnamed aide to a member of the Caucus described the disillusionment among blacks who presumed that following Obama’s election, “life would be better for them. It hasn’t happened.”

Drawing fire from his right flank, Senator Tom Coburn in August accused the president of “intent…to create dependency because it worked so well for him.” The rationale for President Obama’s apparently unmitigated expansion of federal programs for minorities, Senator Coburn concluded, is that, “As an African-American male, (he) received tremendous advantage from a lot of these programs.”

The policy agenda of this Administration doesn’t offer a lot for me to love, but as a black Republican I consider the president’s approach to the racial politics of the 21st century to be fairly spot-on. (His clumsy intervention in the Henry Louis Gates incident notwithstanding.) There’s something to be said for a politician who simultaneously convinces Glenn Beck he has a “fundamental hatred of white people” while making Cornel West bemoan “words the dispirited do not need to hear.”

Perhaps Professor West is confusing the definitions of “need” and “want”. Much criticism of the president’s “black agenda” (or lack thereof) boils down to a failure to usher a federal panacea for the black community. But why are his fellow black leaders awaiting a White House catalyst? Why aren’t elected officials at the federal, state and local levels holding town hall information sessions on microlending, or organizing community resource centers?

The conventional wisdom presumes that the president is “constricted” and “measured” on race, fearing alienation of white independents with an “angry black man” persona. But what if that’s simply not true? In both words and actions, President Obama has been mostly even-keeled when friends and foes have respectively called for rancor and demurral. As the Congressional Black Caucus aide went on to say, “That’s not who we voted for in 2008.” Perhaps what we’ve been seeing since 2009 is instead the genuine article: an accomplished politician who wants purported black leaders to “Stop complainin’.”

Many such “leaders” seem convinced that the salvation of the black community can only come through large scale intervention by the federal government. What we’re seeing now is the shock that their most stinging rejoinder has come from the nation’s first black president.

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19 Comments so far ↓

  • Saladdin

    “But why are his fellow black leaders awaiting a White House catalyst? Why aren’t elected officials at the federal, state and local levels holding town hall information sessions on microlending, or organizing community resource centers?”

    Exactly what the president was arguing when he uttered the phrase, “We are the change we believe in.” Change, historically, has come from the bottom up, not the top down. Various groups are picking away at the president because of their own constricted worldviews. Some on the right argue that he’s pursuing a reparations agenda, while some on the left argue that he’s a republican.

    I tend to agree with the author. If both extremes are upset at you, you must be doing something right.

    • valkayec

      +1 ^

      Obama did not grow up in the black community; he actually knew very few blacks when growing up. What many black leaders complain about are actually the result of their own misperceptions and misconceptions.

  • medinnus

    Facts often get in the way of narratives, especially those on the idiotic “reparations agenda” screed.

  • MSheridan

    Well, there’s been a much needed change at the DOJ Civil Rights Division, but that was largely just repairing the damage done to it in the last administration, not a completely new direction: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/03/AR2010060304938.html

    Aside from that and his nomination/appointment policies, the President has largely followed the adage of “a rising tide lifts all boats” when it comes to improving the plight of minorities.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Don’t confuse criticism with contempt. 99.9% of these complainers will campaign and vote for Obama in 2012. (I don’t know or care what West does)

    • PracticalGirl

      Agreed…If they really do show up.

      2008 was about history- “First black President” was a narrative strong enough to bring disenfranchised voters out in record numbers. “Barack the Magic Negro” was disgusting coming from a right-wing, fat drug addict but if we’re honest, it was a title too many in the black community were singing in earnest. Poorly led by the Cornell Wests of the country, far too many still believe that the issues within the black community are just one political solution- and one black leader-away. Perhaps an impolitic viewpoint, but one I think is valid.

      Prof.West would serve people better, at this point, by comparing where they were under Republican domination, where they would have been had it continued through the Great Recession, and where they’ll be if they don’t fight to keep Obama in the White House…Just like any other American. But that just doesn’t get as many talk show bookings.

  • Graychin

    Obama, the black president, didn’t open the treasury to the reparations agenda?

    What a surprise.

    Anyone who actually IS surprised had a very racist view of Obama in the first place.

  • rbottoms

    Just like Frum will support the GOP.

    So?

    However much the CBC is upset, they despise the GOP more, as does just about every other black person in America. The Neo-Confederate party will never, ever get the black vote. If Satan were the Democratic nominee the best you could hope for as a Republican is we’d stay home.

    • valkayec

      The problem is that black Americans cannot afford to stay home. If they do, the GOP will win and they’ll lose even more. I understand that not everyone who voted for him is pleased with his every decision and every policy, but giving the election via lack of votes to this GOP would be even worse.

      Maybe someday it won’t matter so much but right now, given GOP policies, it does matter a whole whale of a bunch.

  • Solo4114

    This issue isn’t limited to the CBC either. One of Candidate Obama’s greatest strengths came from the fact that he could act as a cipher onto which people could map their aspirations — their HOPEs, as it were. Candidate Obama — like any smart politician — did nothing to dissuade this practice.

    The natural repercussion of this, however, is that ANYONE who expected that PRESIDENT Obama would somehow automagically and singlehandedly transform the world for them was fooling themselves. Some of this, I think, comes from the “Imperial Presidency” of the Bush years, but I think as we’ve seen, a compliant Congress is (by design, I might add) essential in exercising such Imperial might. What nobody expected, I think, is just how obstructionist Congress could be if it really wanted to. For that matter, I think even the GOP was pleasantly surprised at its ability to torpedo or at the very least delay just about every major initiative the President attempted to move through Congress.

    Where the President has, however, consistently failed is in managing the APPEARANCE that he is leading the nation. Nobody cares what he does behind the scenes. His level-headedness is great in certain moments, but the bottom line is that he doesn’t capitalize on his wins, he doesn’t minimize his losses, and he really doesn’t ever bother to “sell” his positions when trying to move them through the legislature.

    I think that for anyone who studied the 2008 campaign, the single most shocking “change” that occurred after the inauguration was the consistent ham-handedness (I daresay failure) of a once-brilliant messaging machine. It is the failure of his messaging that has allowed these attacks from the right, the left, and the sub-groups making up each side. Failure to achieve is bad. Failure to appear to even be trying is worse.

  • LauraNo

    Obama Won’t Indulge Black Frustrations

    Of course he won’t. He can’t (even if he wished to). The Pat Buchanan’s heads would explode all over this country.

  • rubbernecker

    Deleted because ask and ye shall receive.

  • jjack

    The only thing less politically risky than punching hippies in American politics is to tell the working class and all minorities to “stop complaining.” Given that Obama is the most risk-averse politician on the planet, this move is not exactly surprising.

    Obama seems intent on depressing the turn-out of his base in 2012. And I think he is going to get his wish. Because, of course, the mythical independent voter will then say to himself, “Well, I don’t have a job and we’re in a double-dip recession, but Obama told black people to stop complaining, so I’ll vote for him!”

    Good luck with that.

  • anniemargret

    Obama must be as close to being the most besieged President in US history, bar Abraham Lincoln.

    Enough already.

    The man is President of the US, not a race, culture or religious group. Yes, he understand the concerns and desires of the black community, but he also understands working class people of all stripes and colors and is singularly sensitive to not promoting nor fanning the flames of resentment for religious preferences as so many of Republican candidates appear to do.

    Personally I think he was urging the black caucus-goers not to complain, meaning instead of worrying or complaining to work with him and support him to continue the ideology and hopes for the betterment of all working people – including minorities!

    He is not a candidate any longer, he is the POTUS and will run against the Republican choice. So he is asking them, and us who vote Democratic, to get behind him and quit the whining.

    Frankly he is correct. Never has so much obstructionism been thrown in a President’s way, even if his policies would benefit the other side as well. It is simple but blatant obstructionism because the GOP as a collective force cannot stomach the fact that they got beat in ’08, and got beat by a black guy from Chicago.

    And if anyone for a moment thinks there isn’t an enormous amount of bigotry on the GOP side, they are wishful thinkers. And why Rush Limbaugh and the other right wing bloviators all across America were working on strategy to work for his downfall…and not give him an inch – an inch!- of support.

    And why no Republican should ever get near the Oval Office for a few decades…they are not fit to govern the American people.

  • think4yourself

    Jay Gatsby is absolutely correct. Candidate Obama never said to the black community “I will work hard to make sure the wrongs you have suffered in the past will be righted”, he never said, “we’ll make sure that our focus on jobs is to create preferences for African-American males”. In fact, he campaigned and has governed race-neutral. That’s not to say that African American males haven’t been hurt by the recession more than other groups – they have. Black, male unemployment is double the national unemployment. But, that is not the President’s fault.

    I have a friend who is a black, college professor and believes strongly in black pride. He is a huge supporter of Cornell West (who recently said that Obama can’t help himself, he isn’t a real black man because he grew up as a white person in a black man’s skin), Tavis Smiley, Michael Dysart, etc. My friend is saying that if Obama doesn’t change, he will vote for someone else and has suggested that Condoleeza Rice as a write-in candidate or even Herman Cain are worthy of consideration because Obama has betrayed them.

    How foolish.

    I know exactly when I decided to vote for Obama. It was the day I heard his speech on race – before that, I didn’t think he had the experience, would be too liberal for me and I wasn’t going to vote for him. At that point, I knew he thought completely about complex issues and recognized that there was merit from opposing viewpoints. As for black viewpoints, this President never said he would look to expand gov’t funded affirmative-action programs. He’d rather see people learn to stand on their own. He always struck me as much more Bill Cosby than Michael Dysart.

    He is the President for America, including black Americans, but not especially for them. Cornell West, Maxine Waters, etc., need to get their head out of their asses and find ways to assist this President in accomplishing the things that they think are important (like jobs, including for African-Americans). If not, I can guarantee the alternative won’t be too their liking.

    • valkayec

      +1^ Bravo!

    • Solo4114

      Next time you see your friend and he starts talking about this, say two words to him. Just two words:

      Ralph

      Nader

      Protest votes are emotional self-indulgence, and usually end up being against one’s own best interests in any practical sense. They’re the voter’s equivalent of a temper tantrum, and they usually accomplish about as much. Your friend may have legitimate grievances. Your friend may be genuinely, and understandably disappointed in the President’s performance. But your friend should keep the totality of his own practical self interest in mind and remember the lesson of Broward County: every vote counts, and wasting it on a forlorn hope of a candidate is just idiotic and childish.

      • SpartacusIsNotDead

        +1. A protest vote is the same as saying, “I won’t vote for Obama because he hasn’t done enough for blacks. Instead, I’m going to help someone who has done even less for blacks become president.”

  • josebrwn

    Lots of “quotation marks” in this article.