LOS ANGELES - In quick succession, two brightly lit danger signs burst on President Obama’s reelection road. The first was the recent Washington Post/ABC poll showing that nearly as many African-Americans say they are displeased with Obama’s performance as those who approve. The prime reason for the discontent is jobs, or lack thereof, in black communities.
Political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson writes, the jobless rate has hit crisis levels in many inner-city communities, and the perception is that the president simply isn’t saying and doing enough to combat the crisis.
The criticism is not fair given the absolute refusal of congressional Republicans and more than a few Democrats to kick out another penny for job stimulus and training programs. He has also had to beat back every effort by the same forces determined to hack, slash, and vaporize any spending on education and infrastructure spending. Nonetheless, the perception is still that Obama hasn’t done enough on the black-jobs front, and that hurts.
The second danger sign is that Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, co-chair of he Congressional Black Caucus, flatly called the debt ceiling deal “a sugar coated Satan sandwich.”
Caucus members of been displeased with the president’s compromise and conciliation with the GOP to get a debt ceiling deal. But the comments by Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat, raised the inevitable question of whether there is a deeper meaning -- that many black legislative officials are hearing the grumbles and feeling the heat from more blacks about Obama’s perceived failure to take more aggressive action to deal with black needs?
The Caucus has straddled the fine line between extreme care not to say and do anything that will give any more ammunition to Obama’s sworn enemies to attack him on policy questions. Certainly, they have not wanted to feed any public impression that their support (and that of black voters for Obama) has in any way diminished.
But the other side of that fine line is the crisis of black joblessness, compounded by an exploding wealth gap between black and white households that is as high as it’s been in modern times.
The expectation driven by mounting desperation is that Obama must take off the wraps and mount a frontal assault on the problems of the black poor.
But that bumps squarely up against the political reality that the GOP, Congress, and a divided Democratic Party has severely restricted his already tightly constricted political maneuverability. Those constraints have come just when he had to jump start new initiatives and programs to tackle the jobless plight of black males and the disproportionate number of blacks in home foreclosure, as well as spend more to combat failing inner-city public schools, curtail black homelessness and push criminal-justice reform.
The criticisms of Obama’s perceived failings have hit the mark with some blacks.
But criticism means little when no matter how badly some blacks think Obama has performed in confronting urban problems -- and for being too willing to make nice with the GOP -- they forget to consider this question: If not Obama, who?
It’s beyond absurd to even suggest any of the pack of GOP presidential contenders as any kind of alternative to Obama. For the past half-century, blacks have given every Democratic presidential candidate and president an unflagging 80 to 90 percent of their vote. This will not change in 2012, whether Obama is the Democrat presidential contender or not.
Even if some blacks, out of frustration or dislike for Obama, were tempted to look elsewhere, the GOP contenders have made it clear in word and deed they will mount a full assault on every program and initiative on health care, education, infrastructure investment and federal spending on job creation.
Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, as well as education, labor and civil rights protections will also be under attack. Few black voters are prepared to commit political suicide to back anyone that will do that.
The fall off in Obama's approval ratings among some black voters is no surprise. The expectation that Obama could whipsaw a GOP that has dug in its heels and opposed any and every program and initiative on Obama’s legislative table -- not to mention for him to wage an open sustained battle for black needs -- was always a fantasy.
But it’s no fantasy that despite the danger signs in the criticisms and disappointment of many blacks, Obama is the only thing that stands between the GOP and their total economic and political ruin.