Obama and Black Folk

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Oct 1, 2014 No Comments ›› blackexaminer

It’s hard to dispute that President Barrack Obama’s policy toward the Black community during his first term was one of benign neglect. He ignored our problems instead of assuming responsibility for improving or managing them.  I, for one, was dismayed by his lack of stridency on a number of other issues.  Now that he has been re-elected to a second term and final term, with key solid Black support, I wondered if he intended to focus any attention on us this time around. It’s not looking good.

Six years since his great symbolic victory, Black people have sadly lost ground on every leading economic indicator category, and there is no sign whatsoever that Obama has any intention of reversing his administration’s beign neglect at best or assault art worse on the interest of his Black constituents during his final two years in office.

During his first post re-election news conference, Obama struck an unabashedly populous tone as to how he intends to govern during his second term, stating that he now has a mandate to help the poor and the middle class.  The poor, of course, includes Blacks, and specifics for what he proposes to do for us is in order.

As history has shown, just because someone gets into a public office that is insulated from political pressure to adhere to a party-line doesn’t necessarily change the official’s attitude. When I was chairman of the editorial committee of the Washington Afro-American Newspaper, one of the oldest Black newspapers in the nation, Clarence Thomas was nominated by President George Bush to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall on the U.S. Supreme Court. Bush’s selection of Thomas to replace civil rights icon Justice Marshall showed his absolute contempt for the Black community. During his confirmation hearings, dominated by allegations of sexual misconduct, I had several, sometimes heated, debates with the publisher and editor, Francis Murphy, who I greatly admired. The issue was whether the newspaper should support or oppose his confirmation.  I argued that his confirmation should be opposed based on his abysmal civil rights record.  As chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia, Thomas vehemently opposed the civil rights legislation, especially affirmative action, despite the fact that he took full advantage of it as he climbed the career ladder.  Even his grandfather who raised him opposed his confirmation.

Mrs. Murphy and I attended some of the hearings together.  She was impressed with his ability to articulately respond to questions directed to him by members on the House Judiciary subcommittee. She did not dispute Thomas’ terrible stance on civil rights, but argued that if for no other reason the paper should support him because he was Black.  In her opinion, as a Republican, Thomas had to take anti-civil rights/affirmative action positions to get ahead. She was convinced that his life-time appointment to the court would eliminate political pressure to continue opposing civil rights, which would free him to decide cases solely on the merits with no ideological predisposition.  In other words, she believed that once he got on the bench he would become Black and do the right thing by his people.  Mrs. Murphy stood pat on her position, and as head honcho she got her way.  The newspaper endorsed his nomination, and Thomas was confirmed.

Well, we know how that has worked out.  Instead of softening his conservative views, he went in the opposite direction; by far the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court.  Indeed, one can easily predict how he will come down on an issue by imaging the most extreme right wing position. Some say his judicial philosophy would make Attila the Hun seem like a flaming liberal.

Let me be clear.  I’m not trying to compare Thomas’ political philosophy with the president’s.  Indeed, I risk offending the president by mentioning Thomas in the same paragraph.  My point, though, is that Thomas didn’t change his views simply because he was no longer in political jeopardy if he failed to adhere to the conservative party line.

Since President Obama cannot be elected to a third term, he also is no longer constrained from pursuing policies that could jeopardize re-election.  He now has more leeway during his final term to effect policies that might stir controversy, and it seemed that he intended to exercise it if his conversation with former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev at a nuclear security summit in Seoul, South Korea in March, 2012, was any indication. Unaware his microphone was open during a private  chat with Medvedev, Obama gave him a message to take to former and now Russian President Vladimir Putin that, “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved…But it’s important for him to give me space. This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.” 1

Obama’s assurances were controversial. His critics claimed it raised his long-term commitment to the missile defense system to shield Europe from attacks by Iran; a system the Republicans want, and Russians strenuously to object strenuously??. Like his predecessors, and as a lame duck president, Obama undoubtedly will make controversial decisions that he would not have made before being re-elected because he is no longer overly concerned with the political fallout.

  President Obama bailed out Wall Street, major banks and the auto industry with hundreds of billions in taxpayer money. He bent over backward to please the American Jewish community by catering to Israel. The administration has advocated women’s issues such as abortion and access to contraceptives.  Although he deported more undocumented Hispanics than any other president, in June, 2012 Obama by-passed Congress by signing an Executive Order that shielded young Hispanics born in America from deportation, and allowed them to get temporary, but renewable work permits.  Just before the election, he publically endorsed gay marriage; to the delight of the gay and lesbian community. These are prime examples of the administration’s policy initiatives that, in fact, favored a particular race or group.

Blacks voted for Obama in a block that assured him victory in both elections, particularly the last election after he lost the support of a significant number of white voters. Yet, we have virtually been ignored without a single policy initiative that would directly benefit the Black community. Obama apologists argue that he is president of all the people, not just Blacks.

My brother-in-law has worked for years in a downtown office in Cleveland, Ohio, the most coveted election battleground state. He was amazed by the crowds of early-voting Blacks who stood in long lines outside the building across the street.  Despite Republican efforts to suppress the black vote and dire predictions that Blacks wouldn’t turn out in 2012 in the same numbers it did in 2008, they overcame the obstacles, and 93 percent of them voted for Obama. Even the Republicans acknowledge their lack of appeal to minority voters made it more difficult to win the presidency. “When we watched Virginia and Ohio coming in, and those coming in tight as they were looking like we were going to lose them that’s when it became clear,” observed Paul Ryan. 2 He knew they had lost the election. President Obama, therefore, is beholden to Blacks for handing him victory.

In exchange for 71 percent of their vote, the Hispanic community began calling in its markers with demands that the president help them get jobs, provide affordable education, give them better access to healthcare and follow through on his immigration reform promises.  In the post-election news conference mentioned earlier, Obama noted the strong Latino support, and then responded to their demands when he reiterated his intention to make immigration reform a legislative priority, saying that his staff was talking to lawmakers about how to proceed.

While Blacks were key to his victories in both elections, instead of insisting the president returned the favor with a determined effort to pursue solutions to their problems just as he had for the Latinos, we gave him a pass. Blind with admiration with him being the first Black president, we did not demand anything from him. More than that, Blacks took to task anyone, including other Blacks, who dare criticize him for ignoring them.  Indeed, many Blacks incredibly justify his inattention and neglect on the specious notion that he is president of all Americans, and cannot be expected to favor one group, racial or otherwise, over another. That’s not true! He has specifically said what he intends to do for others.  Why not us?

Blacks were especially hard hit by the recession and the foreclosure crisis. In comparison to whites, we disproportionately lost jobs. Crooked banks targeted our communities for exotic mortgage loans that all but guaranteed default. When the fraud perpetrated by them backfired, it resulted in a Black foreclosure rate triple, maybe quadruple, that of white Americans.  “African Americans have lost half of their wealth relative to white Americans in the financial crisis,” wrote Princeton University Professor Imani Perry in a Washington Post op-ed piece. 3  “They face the highest rates of unemployment and incarceration, and have alarmingly low high school graduation rates in major cities.” 4 Access to healthcare for those who fall between the very poor and the middle-class is almost nonexistence.  All of this is due to centuries of racial inequality.

The U.S. Supreme Court is systematically dismantling the gains made during the Civil Rights era with rulings that gut affirmative action and equal voting rights legislation. “The president ought to challenge us in word and deed to do better,” says Professor Perry, “and we ought to challenge him, Congress and the courts in return.  Instead of seeking a post-racial nation, we ought to be pursuing a racially just one.” 5

The Black community heavily invested in President Obama with their votes in his first and second election; he didn’t do anything for them during the first term.  With the exception of changes in drug policies such as the of criminal prosecution and incarceration for the possession of marijuana that disproportionately impact Blacks, Obama is on track to another dismal record for helping Blacks.

It’s up to us to demand he addresses some of our issues this time around. And so far, we haven’t. Part of the reason is that we already understand politics in America, knowing that if he did attempt to do something for us, he would immediately be shut down. We fear this, and want him to live. The other part is that too many of us fell for the hope and change ideology. Our emotions keep us believing that he might do something, that he still has time remaining. And as time runs out, he continues to pacify us with his articulate speech, handsomeness, and expectation that we will be next. Truth be told, next will never come…


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