Obama Accountability Does Not Equal Hateration

05/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Jeff Johnson Partner and Chief of Strategy, Illume Communications

As most of America was waking up to take on their Monday morning grind, I was boarding a plane in Holland to return to the States after nearly a week there attending and speaking for the Pioneer's conference. I was proud of myself, as the week abroad had not kept me from responding to most email and voicemail messages. However, when I landed at Washington Dulles airport I was bombarded by a full voicemail box and over 500 emails, Facebook, and text messages all about a Washington Post front page article that discussed "Blacks being at odds over the scrutiny of the President."

People criticized the fact that I suggested we hold President Obama accountable as the equivalent of being a "hater" or subscribing to the crabs in the barrel methodology. I think it is not only troubling, but also dangerous that any community, specifically the African American community would feel that they should give up their right and responsibility, when appropriate and prudent, to hold accountable their president on issues of concern.

The election of the first black president did not somehow remove the laundry list of pressing social and political matters facing rural, urban, poor, wealthy, educated and uneducated members of the very diverse black community. The same black community that blamed and challenged President Bush on almost every decision he made from the gate. This is a community that despite the very high approval ratings of President Clinton, also challenged him on issues of federal mandatory minimum drug policy past under his watch. This is a community during much of its history in this country has engaged president after president about issues of equal access and even human dignity when too many others would not. Why now would we even imply that President Obama should get a pass because he is black and we are still celebrating his election?

I am not suggesting that today we begin to rally the Nation of Islam, NAACP, Urban League, and the membership of all of America's black churches and historically black colleges and universities to the steps of the White House to ask President Obama why he has not cut reparations checks. I agree with Americans in and outside of the black community that want to give our new president the opportunity to walk out his administration's plans for turning around the political version of the titanic. The historical implications and the magnitude of the economic, educational, and environmental position we are in as a nation require that we allow for some time. However, the way we make government better is through an active and not a passively appreciative approach; by making sure that lawmakers (at all levels) know we are watching and responding to the moves they make on our behalf. The president and his administration have created a more open environment for accountability to take place and thus met with many black leaders. We also must hold these black leaders also accountable to use those meetings for more than photo ops, but rather opportunities to discuss real strategy to transform communities around the country.

Two truths about the current political climate make the desire by some to condemn accountability in the name of history making celebration, well...foolish.

One of the values that the African American community used to lift high was the notion that as a race of people in America we had to be twice as good because of the lens of white supremacy we are being judged with. Why now, that one of our own has made history, proving that this work ethic and way of thinking still works would we spit in the face of our history and lower the expectation because it's the first 100 days, because he is black, or because we are lazy citizens that have forgotten what it means to truly engage.

Furthermore, during his March 24, 2009 prime-time press conference, the president reinforced this fact when ABC News reporter Ann Compton asked the president about the issue of race. To which he responded, "And, you know, obviously, at the inauguration, I think that there was justifiable pride on the part of the country that we had taken a step to move us beyond some of the searing legacies of racial discrimination in this country, but that lasted about a day. And, and, you know, right now, the American people are judging me exactly the way I should be judged. That is, are we taking the steps to improve liquidity in the financial markets, create jobs, get businesses to reopen, keep America safe? And that's what I've been spending my time thinking about."

Well, if President Obama himself is looking for the American people (all of them) to judge him the way he should be judged, should we also? For the last two years, America has been lifting up the mantra of change. Well change does not just come from the Oval Office on Pennsylvania Ave, but it must come from small offices and living rooms on your Avenue and on my street. That means that the people and leadership together have a shared responsibility; one helping and pushing the other even when they disagree to make real change and history.

With the state of the economy, the fact that we are at war on at least two fronts, we are dealing with 50 percent dropout rates for some high school students, we are losing more jobs -- we do not have time to celebrate anything. Anyone who cares about making history more than they care about the transformation of their community and their country has a real misplaced understanding of what making history is supposed to mean. I believe the way that we truly and honestly support our President's vision, strategy, and move towards transformation is by pushing him to be his best. This is called: ACCOUNTABILITY.