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2012 Election, Democracy

“She Didn’t Want To Do Anything To Hurt the President”

Just finished reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ tremendous, must-read essay, which covers the Obama and race subject as well as I’ve ever seen it discussed, and this quote by Shirley Sherrod at the end jumped out at me: “She didn’t want to do anything to hurt the president”

The points Coates raises are many, beginning with the perceived need by Obama to avoid all talk of race, the costs and benefits of doing so, and the impact and effect the entire experience, both positive and negative, has had on the country at large and the Black community in particular

Obama talked less about race than any other Democratic president since 1961. Obama’s racial strategy has been, if anything, the opposite of radical: he declines to use his bully pulpit to address racism, using it instead to engage in the time-honored tradition of black self-hectoring, railing against the perceived failings of black culture.

And yet what are we to make of an integration premised, first, on the entire black community’s emulating the Huxt­ables? An equality that requires blacks to be twice as good is not equality—it’s a double standard. That double standard haunts and constrains the Obama presidency, warning him away from candor about America’s sordid birthmark….

Whatever the political intelligence of this calculus, it has broad and deep consequences. The most obvious result is that it prevents Obama from directly addressing America’s racial history, or saying anything meaningful about present issues tinged by race, such as mass incarceration or the drug war….

This clearly presents some problems.  The facts are that, by almost any measure, the Black community is fighting to just tread water when compared to Whites, and in most instances is actually falling further behind.  That’s a reality that predates Obama, but it has continued apace since his election.  The wealth gap between Blacks and Whites has grown.  Black unemployment is as high as it’s been in several decades.  As Coates mentions, mass incarceration, police brutality (stop and frisk anyone?), and the continuation of the drug war (of which the Obama administration and DOJ have unique control over to curtail) are all areas that affect the Black community disproportionately, but, for whatever reason, and they may be those described by Coates, go unaddressed and are not discussed by Obama or his surrogates in a particularly meaningful way.

Yet, as a friend was quick to point out, Obama still has 94% of the vote of Blacks compared to Romney’s comical (and statistically inaccurate) 0% according to a recent poll.  That would seem to fly in the face of the realities that are facing the Black community and raises a few questions that another friend posed…

  • Is Obama serving the interests of African-Americans (not to suggest that those interests are uniform by any means)? How have his policies helped them?
  • If they haven’t, what explains such “loyalty”?  Is it just identity politics?

I would posit a few things…

  1. Blacks have always voted Democrat at ridiculously high rates. Obama’s percentage of the Black vote is not too far out of line with the norm.  Kerry got 88% in 2004, Gore 90% in 2000 and Clinton 84% in 1996.  What is slightly abnormal about 2008 and attributable to Obama was the turnout.
  2. That being said, one can clearly identify identity politics at play when looking at the Democratic primary, where Obama got a similar percentage of the Black vote as in the general.
  3. When it comes to policies, personally, I don’t believe Obama is adequately serving the Black community, but that also depends on your definition of “adequately”.  As described in a previous post on the aversion to discuss poverty, the Administration is certainly to be commended on the good that they have done (stimulus, healthcare, etc), but my feeling is that a lot is left to be desired on issues specific to the Black community.
  4. And of course, you have the Republican boogeyman lurking, with both it’s hurtful rhetoric, damaging policies and, perhaps most importantly, attacks on Obama which, in many cases, are racially tinged.

It’s this last part which I think explains the continued overwhelming support for Obama (and Democrats in general) by Blacks.  Not only are Blacks faced with no other option but Democrats, no matter how much they ignore the issues that are important to them, but this time around, there’s a feeling that the benefit that Obama brings is much more than just policy.  That is to say that It is more important to validate the standing and equality of Blacks in America than any particular policy. Personally, I don’t agree with that way of thinking, but I am certainly sympathetic.

As Coates concludes in his piece…

And yet this is the uncertain foundation of Obama’s historic victory—a victory that I, and my community, hold in the highest esteem. Who would truly deny the possibility of a black presidency in all its power and symbolism?



2 thoughts on ““She Didn’t Want To Do Anything To Hurt the President”

  1. I suppose the test of whether Blacks find Obama’s policies beneficial in any way will be turnout in the upcoming presidential election. It’s easy to say you prefer a particular candidate, particularly when the differences are as stark as in this election (we have one candidate – Romney – who has taken offered only platitudes in place of policies), and when the Republican party is under total sway of radicals. But if you really like what your President is doing, you are much more likely to actually go out and pull the lever (or tap the touchscreen) for him.

    Posted by JM | August 23, 2012, 2:32 pm
    • I’m not so sure it’s that simple. Turnout will be a statement (and I would predict it will be lower), but that can be affected as much by positive feelings towards the person you’re considering voting for as by tremendously negative feelings towards the person they’re running against. Further, and perhaps more importantly for the Black community, as stated in #4, one can place more importance on the symbolism and the long term social implications of a victory versus defeat and decide that even if the policies leave something to be desired, they do not outweigh the collective injury to Black people’s standing in the larger American community if Obama were to not get a second term…

      Posted by chico | August 23, 2012, 5:04 pm

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