After spending much of her 94-years as a civil rights activist this Washington, DC resident is understandably supportive of the Barack Obama presidency because she like many African-Americans never thought she’d ever see a black man sitting in that Oval Office seat designated for the most powerful person on earth.
This 94-year-old bristles at the extraordinary amount of criticisms unleashed against Obama telling a niece that she’d like to take a sharp sword and stick Obama critics “in the butt!”
Many blacks are touchy about criticisms directed toward Obama, feeling – with factual basis – that Obama receives unfair criticisms, particularly from right-wing conservatives.
For example Michelle Bachmann, the extremist Republican congresswoman with presidential aspirations, blasted Obama blaming him for historic high levels of black unemployment, a rate consistently double that of whites during this so-called Great Recession which actually is a full-blown depression for minorities and many whites.
Of course Bachmann’s partisan slam was silent on small yet salient facts like Obama inheriting the jobs killing recession from his Republican Oval Office predecessor who Bachmann blindly supported.
And, Bachmann’s blast blithely dismissed the fact that she and her Republican confederates on Capitol Hill have persistently opposed efforts by congressional progressives to pass jobs creating initiatives that would significantly increase employment among all jobless Americans, including blacks.
Capitol Hill progressives including the Congressional Black Caucus have long sought creation of public service jobs for unemployed Americans like those federal initiatives utilized during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the recession of the early 1970s.
Interestingly, if that 94-year-old desires taking a sword to the backside of Bachmann and other Obama bashers she also must wield it against some black Obama critics including those she’s revered like Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich).
Conyers’ tough criticisms of perceived shortcomings in Obama’s presidency, particularly tepid attacks on unemployment, have earned the Detroit congressman icy antipathy from Obama who Conyers’ once mentored.
Obama’s jobs creating emphasis has been principally through public works infrastructure renovation projects funded through his federal stimulus initiative. However that approach largely bypasses blacks because of historic discrimination in the building trade unions that perform infrastructure work.
Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus did pump billions into state and local government coffers that helped retain public sector employees, many of whom are black. But the Obama Administration has failed to institute aggressive jobs creation initiatives during its first two and a half years.
Despite America’s first black president enjoying solid support in black communities’ coast-to-coast criticisms of Obama from that seemingly secure sector of Obama’s voting base are increasingly.
Famed figures like Princeton University Professor Cornell West and iconic actor/activist Harry Belafonte plus folks from the faceless rank-&-file are leveling sharply phrased critiques of Obama’s failure to specifically address crisis- proportion problems in a long-suffering segment of American society: the black community.
“President Obama hasn’t talked about poor people who are suffering. He is always talking about the middle class,” said Daryl Brooks, a community activist in Trenton, NJ who aligns himself with the Tea Party out of frustration with black and other political leaders ignoring inner-city concerns.
In July 2011 when Obama seemingly accelerated his rightward drift embracing deficit reducing austerity loudly advocated by conservative Republicans the Pew Research Center released a report detailing that by 2009 only 15 percent of whites households had a net worth of zero or less compared to about a third of the black and Hispanic households.
“The highest unemployment rates in the industrialized world are among African-America youth. The federal and state governments are not addressing this major problem,” said Brooks, who also criticizes New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie, a politician receiving praise from conservatives countrywide for his attacks against teachers’ unions, deep budget cuts that savage the poor and tax breaks for millionaires.
Countering escalating criticisms of Obama in black communities, the President’s prominent black supporters like civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton echo the rationale advanced by Obama himself that he is the president of all Americans so his addressing issues specific to African-American would be inappropriate.
However, that view side-steps the reality that Obama has addressed specialized issues important to specific groups, including gays and women.
Obama’s even repeatedly addressed issues important to his Republican political adversaries.
Obama’s embrace of Republican demands for deficit reducing austerity by slashing services to the most needy chagrins many beyond black communities’ already enduring disproportionate pain from the GOP’s ruthless onslaught against the middle and working classes.
Black-owned businesses, historically marginalized in federal contracting, have received a paltry 3.5% of federal contracts funded through Obama’s ARRA stimulus between February 2009 and November 2010 compared to white-owned businesses receiving 81.3% of stimulus-funded contracts during that period, according to calculations by Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.
That figure for black firms receiving federal stimulus funded contracts is lower than the percentage of black owned business in America. Latino and Asian owned businesses also have fared poorly in receipt of ARRA funded contracts according to Kirwan calculations.
The President of the United States has a legal duty to address discrimination inclusive of contracting inequities that adversely impact identifiable groups.
The failure and/or inability of the Obama Administration to deal with such discrimination causes black critics like Dr. West to conclude that this president – like his white predecessors – treats blacks differently.
Black bashers of Professor West, from Sharpton to former West colleague Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry (the professor/media commentator) and syndicated radio personality Tom Joyner are particularly incensed with slams from West like his tagging Obama a “mascot” of Wall Street.
Setting aside the tone of West’s “mascot” tag, facts do document that Obama received huge financial contributions from mega-financial/corporate entities during his 2008 presidential campaign, with ten of Obama’s top twenty contributors coming from that sector, including Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs and corporate titan General Electric.
And facts also document that the Obama Administration embraced Bush’s controversial Wall Street bailout without seriously extracting tough (and overdue) reforms in return for the tax-payer rescue even after Wall Street executives lavished bonuses on themselves with bailout money.
That lack of thorough financial sector reform was an unseemly break for Wall Street, particularly its financial fraudsters, whether or not it was pay-back for those campaign contributions.
Facts further document that the Obama Administration (like it predecessors) has been more aggressive in cracking down on ‘street crimes’ than on the more grievous economy wrecking crimes committed by the corporate-financial elite.
During 2010, the second year of Obama’s presidency, federal prosecutors secured the convictions of 3,838 blacks for crack cocaine law violations, producing prison sentences averaging nearly ten years.
However, that same year the feds continued wrist-slap enforcement on corporations facing criminal charges for far-reaching offenses including fraud and environmental pollution. None of the corporate culprits responsible for those crimes received prison terms, according to U.S. Sentencing Commission data.
Yes, corporate offenders in 2010 paid fines averaging $16.3-million, but some black drug law offenders last year received substantial fines plus long prison sentences.
An East St. Louis, Ill. businessman received a life sentence plus a $2.25-million fine for distributing three thousand pounds of cocaine between 2004 and his arrest in April 2008.
Wachovia – once the nation’s sixth largest bank by assets – received in March 2010 what amounted to a year-long probation when Obama Administration federal prosecutors entered into a deal settling a criminal proceeding against Wachovia for its facilitating illegal money transfers from Mexico totaling $378-billion…a staggering sum that included billions traced directly to violent Mexican drug cartels.
The amount of cocaine trafficking that sent that Illinois man to prison for life – one and a half tons – was smaller than a single 22 ton cocaine shipment referenced in the Wachovia settlement document.
While no Wachovia personnel involved in this drug-tainted money laundering went to prison, during 2010 the U.S. government won convictions against 806 persons involved in money laundering sending nearly 77 percent of those offenders to prison.
For Obama prosecutors apparently a too-big-to-fail bank was too-big-to-jail.
Wells Fargo purchased Wachovia in early 2009, a few years after the money laundering infractions. Wells purchased Wachovia for $12.7-billion, shortly after Wells Fargo received $25-billion in federal bail-out funds. That purchase helped make Wells Fargo America’s second-largest bank.
Quibbling with the words Cornell West uses in his critiques does not erase the Obama Administration’s substantive failure to seriously tackle the onerous scourge of high unemployment, particularly among blacks.
Yes, mass unemployment during this recession ravages Americans of all races. However, this dire malady is peculiarly pronounced in the black community.
While the national unemployment rate in June 2011 registered 8.6 percent among whites, the rate for blacks was nearly double at 16.2%, according to federal figures – figures that curiously under-count actual levels of unemployment.
Black unemployment in inner-city sections of Philadelphia, for example, is nearly fifty percent according to community activists who tabulate their figures from street-level contacts not sophisticated statistical samplings. Most of these jobless endure long-term unemployed predating Great Recession related layoffs.
Unemployment drives other crippling conditions like mortgage foreclosures which have disproportionately impacted blacks in the wake of the housing market downturn. Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, during a June 2010 address to black newspaper owners, termed foreclosures and home value drops the largest loss of black wealth in history.
Obama selected the CEO of GE to be his ‘Jobs Czar.”
That’s the same GE that has cut and/or off-shored jobs through closing factories in the U.S. over recent decades. In July 2011 GE announced moving its hub for medical X-Ray business to China.
And, this is the same GE that rakes in billions of dollars in profits while avoiding all federal tax payments by adroitly exploiting tax code loopholes…loopholes unavailable to middle and low-income wage earners struggling with their tax burdens.
Given the soaring joblessness among Americans of all races, Obama’s Job’s Czar is not doing a bang-up job.
“If a White House had been as dismissive of African-American’s interest as Obama has been, Blacks would have been ready to march on the White House,” wrote respected journalist George Curry, who in mid-2011 moderated a discussion between Rev. Sharpton and Prof. West about their differences on Obama.
Often divorced from critiques of Obama is the fact that he faces an unprecedented dilemma beyond strident obstructionism from Republicans who are willing the sacrifice the well-being of whites to undermine this President.
Obama is caught on the horns of America’s legacy of individual and institutional racism…a dilemma not endured by any other Oval Office occupant.
“Seeing the president as one of them, many African Americans expect the president to do more for them,” observed blogger Debbie Hines, a lawyer. “Others view that there is a balance to the president being able to overtly address their concerns mainstream and risk alienating other segments of society.”
President Obama will receive criticism from many whites if any programmatic initiative appears to them to specifically or disproportionately benefit blacks.
Some conservatives blasted Obama’s health care reforms by calling them reparations for blacks despite Obama’s publicly stated opposition to the concept of reparations for slavery (a stance that riles some blacks).
In fact, Obama’s health reforms specifically sought to corral rapidly rising health costs that are killing America’s economy. He did not seek to covertly compensate blacks who are ‘sick’ of racism.
Obama publicly admits that his health reforms did benefit many blacks but within the context of his governance posture of ‘a rising tides lifting all boats’…which may contend is a rework of despised (and ineffective) ‘trickle down economics’ of the Ronald Reagan presidency.
Obama has directed monies to historically black colleges as part of his efforts to improve education including expanding Pell Grants for all college students. Obama did support paying the court settlement for the long-festering race discrimination suit black farmers filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ending a long festering injustice and incurring more bigot-tainted barbs from Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, whites (conservatives and many liberals) banged Obama around for his association with his long-time Christian pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Those critics tarred Obama for Wright’s alleged ‘radical’ theology – a theology ironically based on social justice, the care-for-the-poor principles advocated by Jesus.
Lashing Obama as a socialist causes real socialists like Ken Heard of Philadelphia to chuckle.
“Anytime someone calls Obama a socialist or Clinton a communist, shows they don’t know what they’re talking about,” said Heard who is active in the Philadelphia branch of the Black Radical Congress. “Obama and Clinton are both centrists and defenders of capitalism. They are not even members of the Democratic Party’s left-wing.”
Consistent with Obama’s damned if he does/damned if he doesn’t dilemma, his attempts to mitigate white criticism result in his angering many blacks, who understandably feel he is ignoring long festering issues like structural unemployment and mass incarceration.
Much of the mass incarceration across America impacting blacks arises from this nation’s Drug War which marked a dubious 40th Anniversary on June 17, 2011.
Half of the 216,706 inmates in federal prisons at the end of June 2011 were drug law offenders according to the federal Bureau of Prisons. Blacks comprise 38% of the federal prison population; triple their rate in America’s population.
Federal studies repeatedly document that more whites use crack cocaine than blacks. Yet, blacks comprised 78.5% of those convicted in federal courts for crack offenses in 2010 compared to the 7.3% white rate, according to U.S. Sentencing Commission statistics.
Obama did fulfill a campaign pledge to reduce the imbalance between powder cocaine and crack cocaine sentences reaching a compromise with Capitol Hill in 2010. That compromise reduced but did not eliminate the sentencing disparity that resulted in many black crack users receiving longer sentences than white powder cocaine dealers.
Despite inheriting an unprecedented economic mess Obama has wasted mega-money on military activities like escalating his predecessor’s quagmire in Afghanistan.
Further, in mid-March 2011, the Noble Peace Prize winning Obama eagerly joined the French-British assault on the leader of North African nation Libya – a fiasco for the United States that drained $715-million in federal funds during three months according to a report the White House sent Congress in late June 2011.
The money Obama’s squandered on attempting to oust Libya’s Gaddafi could have covered the entire $629-million deficit facing the School District of Philadelphia. That deficit produced the layoffs of 3,400 District employees at the end of June 2011, a substantial number of those layoffs falling on blacks.
Journalist George Curry rightly notes that many blacks “do not want to hear anything bad about Barack Obama even if it’s true.”
This deaf-to-Obama-foibles stance taken by many blacks is not substantially different from whites who blindly idolize Ronald Reagan.
That late president dangerously ran-up the national debt during the 1980s and initiated much of the deregulation responsible for many of the structural fiscal problems facing the country today–problems Reagan idolizers duplicitously blame on Obama.
The unquestioning support Obama enjoys among many blacks is curiously similar to the stance adopted by many Jewish Americans who reflexively attack any criticism of Israel.
“Those public supporters of President Obama who defend him at all costs are clearly doing Black people a major disservice,” stated a commentary posted on Black Agenda Report, a website long critical of Obama.
“President Obama and his administration have taken the black vote for granted and feel no need to acknowledge or act on any issues on our behalf.”
Daryl Brooks, the Tea Party member, offers a relevant observation for blacks: “We have to challenge the President on issues. We can like him but we can’t give him a free pass because he’s black.”
Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.
This essay is adapted from Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, edited by Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank.