From the moment that he set foot in the White House in January, 2009 President Obama has had to hear the silly charge that he has miserably failed blacks. He's repeatedly heard it for two reasons. The first is obvious. He's black, but more than that he actually practiced civil rights law and worked as a community organizer in poor communities on Chicago's South Side. Therefore he's supposed to have an even greater sensitivity to the plight of the black poor. And because of that he has a duty, obligation and even mission to use the power and prestige of the office to do and say more for blacks.
The other reason is pragmatic. Blacks backed him in record numbers in his 2008 and 2012 election campaigns. Despite the relentless beating he's taken from the GOP, the legions of bloggers, websites, talk show jocks, tea party leaders and followers and assorted racist and fringe hate groups for six years, blacks have remained his staunchest supporters even when they privately grumble that he should do more for them especially since he no longer has to seek reelection.
But what is more? Obama has on occasion had to remind the black critics that he's not the black president but the American president. This has always gotten much ink, and ignited public and private criticism that he's not doing enough. But he's also reminded that he has proposed, backed, implemented, enacted and increased funding for initiatives and legislation and signed executive orders that have boosted blacks in education and business. He's made the first real White House effort in decades to take some action to bring some modicum of fairness to the horribly race-tinged sentencing and incarceration pipeline for legions of blacks.
The number of low-income blacks that have enrolled in the insurance exchanges with subsidies more than bear out that his signature Affordable Care Act gave them first time access to affordable health care. This has been given thousands of blacks who faced life threatening illnesses a new lease of life. This and his other initiatives have mostly flown low under the radar scope, been ignored, deliberately minimized or distorted by Obama's black critics.
Obama has refused to say that any of his initiatives and programs were aimed at blacks. The absence of this frank statement and the longing of many blacks to hear him say that fuels the perception and frustration that he isn't doing enough, or even anything.
Meanwhile, the GOP's black attack surrogates delight in lashing Obama with alleged figures that show that blacks have supposedly fallen further down the economic ladder during his administration than under Bush. This is crass and a cynical cherry picking of stats to make a trumped up case that Obama is no friend of blacks and therefore they should be no friend of his. The facts are different. Studies that measure how blacks have fared under GOP versus Democratic presidential administrations presidents including the first two years of Obama's show that blacks have increased their annual average income, including black family income, employment and decreased their poverty rate under Democratic presidents. At the same time, arrest rates have decline significantly faster under Democrats than Republicans.
The gains blacks have made under Obama have been even more remarkable given the other historic cross that he has had to bear. For a quarter century before Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992, Democrats were regarded and reviled by conservatives as the party that tilted to and pandered to minorities. The backlash was swift and devastating. Blue collar and rural white males deserted the Democrats in droves. Their sprint to the GOP became the reliable trump card for Reagan, Bush Sr. and George W. Bush's White House wins.
Clinton slightly broke the Democrat's slide among whites, particularly white males. But he had to reverse gears and touted a strong defense, the war against terrorism, tax reform for the middle class, pro-business solutions to joblessness and, most importantly, tip toe around civil rights and poverty issues. Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore and John Kerry followed the Clinton blueprint to the letter during their campaigns. If either had won, the likelihood is they would not have made these problems priority items in their White House tenure.
Yet Obama has made jobs, health care and sentencing reform priority items even while having to maintain his presidency as race-neutral. This approach has angered some blacks, but it has not given the Obama baiters anywhere to go with the issue of race. The end game is not what appearance Obama has had to show to the public but what tangible gains blacks have made. On this, Obama can claim much has been done even as he continues to hear the silly charge that he has failed blacks.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson. Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.
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