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.