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Supporting Obama With "Facts"

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I happily voted for Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. I think he is a 180 degree improvement upon his predecessor, a man I think should be indicted for war crimes. However, I am also among those who believe that he has been timid on racial issues and can do more than he has on issues that are of unique importance to African Americans (and don't give me that "He's the President for everybody, not just Black people." I get that, but we're Americans too). So, as you can imagine, I was interested to see a NewsOne report titled "What Has Obama Done for You Lately?" which offered "a short list of accomplishments that the President has achieved for Black Americans -- and everyone else too."

The list is ridiculous. As a public policy professor, I am a stickler for understanding how government works -- and does not. If one of my students presented me with a paper with as many flaws, problematic interpretations, and factual errors, then I would fail him or her on the assignment. Following are the five accomplishments listed by NewsOne and my analysis of their reporting.

"Awarded $1.2 Billion to Black Farmers"

There is disconnect between the sub-heading, which clearly states the President gave $1.2 billion to Black farmers, and the text that followed. The text said that the President's administration "oversaw the $1.2 billion settlement awarded to Black farmers." Legal action began in 1996, when 1000 Black farmers filed a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for discriminatory practices against Black farmers. The original settlement occurred on January 5, 1999, just more than a decade before Barack Obama was inaugurated as President.

Yes, President Obama supported settlement. Yes, the settlement occurred on his watch. But he did not "award" the money. Congress appropriated the money after Federal Court judge Paul Friedman approved the settlement. The President's signing of the appropriations measure occurred after court and congressional action. At best, it is an overstatement to say the President "awarded" the money. At worst, it is a misunderstanding of the case and how the appropriations process works.

"Expanded Funding for HBCU's"

As a graduate of Hampton University and Howard University, this issue is close to my heart. The News One article noted that "President Obama signed an executive order increasing funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to $850 million over the next 10 years." Executive Order 13532, signed on February 26, 2010, makes no mention at all of $850 million in increased funding. The funding is actually included in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (HCERA), which was signed into law on March 30, 2010. Either way, a simple civics lesson on the federal appropriations process would show that the $850 million may never materialize.

First, the Constitution empowers only Congress with the ability to spend money. No President can simply snap their fingers and spend money. Second, multi-year appropriations such as the 10-year time frame indicated in HCERA require annual action from Congress; they have to vote every year to give, for example, $85 million annually over the length of the funding authorization. Given the austere budget environment in which we now live, coupled with Republican opposition to virtually anything President Obama does, it's highly unlikely that Congress would put up $85 million every year for ten years.

But let's say they did and do some math. The executive order identifies 105 HBCU's. Divide that number into the total "appropriation" of $850 and each institution would receive about $8 million, or about $800,000 annually over the decade. I can attest that every HBCU could use some help, but let's not jump up and down as if $800,000 per year is a lot of money for HBCU's, some of which have annual budgets in excess of $100 million. On the surface, $850 million sounds like a lot of money, but when you dig deeper one has to conclude that it's impact won't match the hype that heralded it's announcement.

"Signed the Crack Cocaine Bill (Fair Sentencing Act)"

President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing on August 3, 2010. The law reduced the racist 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing. While that should be applauded, it has to be noted that the new law still legitimizes racism by maintaining an 18:1 disparity. We still don't have a great answer as to why the administration accepted the disparity, or if they intend to push for its complete abolition. Paraphrasing Malcolm X: we shouldn't call it progress if 18% of the knife is still in our backs.

"Passed Health Care Reform (Affordable Care Act)"

It is indisputable that the Affordable Care Act will benefit millions of Americans, including African Americans. While I support a "single-payer" healthcare system the ACA is certainly an improvement.

"Created the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department"

This is too easy. From the Department of Justice website: "The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, created in 1957 by the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1957." Future President Barack Obama Obama as born four years later (in Hawaii).

Bottom line: I support the President's reelection and am all for strong, fact-based arguments on his behalf. I cannot support efforts to conflate his work and make it out to be something that it isn't. Let's lead with the facts. Putting up badly done analysis in the name of supporting the President only undermines legitimate arguments that can be made on his behalf.

Michael K. Fauntroy is associate professor of public policy at George Mason University. He teaches courses in American government, civil rights policy, and urban policy. He is a graduate of both Hampton University and Howard University. His third book, Living While Black: Reflections on a Post-Racial America, will be published in early 2013. He blogs at MichaelFauntroy.com and tweets @MKFauntroy.