Obama fires back: Responds to African-American Critics
Over the past few weeks, Obama has come under intense fire from prominent African Americans ranging from Cornel West to Danny Glover, Jesse Jackson and the Congressional Black Caucus. The basic complaint is that Obama has ignored the plight of African-Americans and some think that some special dispensation needs to be given as a salve on the wound from the Great Recession. The general idea is that Obama ascended to the presidency on the backs of loyal African-American voters and that there’s been little that can be shown in the way of return on that vote.
To the extent black critics flail away at Obama for the ill advised expansion of the Afghan conflict and the massive favoritism shown Wall Street at the expense of Main Street, I’m in 100% agreement, but I depart from them on the idea of special dispensation.
Obama recently returned their fire by contending that to the extent he helps all Americans, African-Americans will also be helped. On this point, I’m in agreement with the president. To be sure, African-Americans lead in most indices of societal ill, but this is often a direct outcome of poor choices which the government can do little about. Moreover, to seek special dispensation is divisive, especially when it comes to things that affect everyone like unemployment. From a strategic standpoint, it would make far more sense for critics like the CBC to join in efforts to shape the final jobs bill to be finalized early next year and to ensure that their constituents are aware of the opportunities and are prepared to take advantage of them.
Notwithstanding my agreement with the president’s position, I must say that I’m all for holding Obama along with any other politician accountable. For far too long, African-Americans have loyally given up the vote for the democratic party in exchange for absolutely nothing in return other than appearances for a chosen few in the klieg lights and a pat on the head. As a result, our vote is taken for granted because we have no demands we make in advance in exchange for it. Because we fail to do this, we generally find ourselves in the position of our noses pressed up against the window looking in on other folks receiving spoils from an election victory because they had the good sense to cut a deal in exchange for their votes. If one fails to do that at the outset, then it’s too late to negotiate a “deal” after you given up the “goods”. Your only option at that point is to beg for dispensation, which is a weak position to be negotiating from.
Obama operates out of the same standard playbook that the democratic party has when dealing with the African-American community. That playbook includes making appearances with key African-American leaders, talk a good game and deliver nothing. To be honest though, I can’t blame them as much as I blame black folks. They get away with it because we lack a coherent agenda that demands deliverables. This agenda is absent because there are few active African-American groups proactively engaged in implementing solutions to address the various ills of the community and exerting some control over the agenda or the strategic direction of the community. One has to be actively attempting to address a problem as a precursor for developing an real agenda. What does seem to exist is a lot of begging and blaming. Merely going to someone with a request to come up with a solution for you when you’ve not done the spadework to come up with your own solutions doesn’t constitute an agenda. Consequently, the only thing that can be given in exchange for the vote is appearances in klieg lights, photo ops and talk. We generally don’t have the structures in place to accept anything more substantive. That must change across the board if black folks expect to demand much from Obama or anyone else in exchange for the our vote.