What Price Victory…
By Purnell Pinkney
Let’s face it…by any measure, the Obama phenomenon is extraordinary. In an unprecedented string of 2007-2008 political wins, he eliminated Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, defeated John McCain in the general election and within months of his inauguration, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It was an astonishing string of unlikely successes. Almost immediately talk of a second term began to float around Washington D.C. It was a magical time. The prospect of the return of a Camelot-like administration courtesy of President Obama and his family, reminiscent of the John Kennedy years, drifted through the minds of an adoring public. But…there were serious problems with the economy. The solution: bail-outs and quantitative easing…more money, more money, more money. It seemed to stop the bleeding but the structural financial problems remained. In March of 2010, President Obama signed his landmark legislation, the Affordable Care Act. Seven months later, on November 6, 2010, the Democrats lost the majority in the House and Nancy Pelosi was removed as Speaker. With that Democratic loss, any hopes for D.C. statehood faded and a slew of other broad initiatives probably evaporated. The resulting effect was Congressional gridlock and it continues to this day. Nonetheless, President Obama won a second term, courtesy of a narrow popular vote which translated into a landslide Electoral College majority.
In both of President Obama’s elections, African Americans voted for him in the mid-to-high 90 percentages. In fact, black Americans voted for Mr. Obama at some of the highest recorded levels of modern ballot-box political history. Accompanying this spectacular display of allegiance was the corresponding expectation that black communities would be the beneficiaries of policy initiatives that would begin to counteract their long-standing, seemingly intractable problems of crime, employment, housing, education, health care, infant mortality, etc. Maybe, just maybe…all of those urban pathologies were about to be dramatically reversed. Instead, “The Dream Act,” same-sex marriage, illegal immigration, 2nd Amendment issues and repeal of DOMA/”Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell” became the administration’s domestic priority. President Obama now began to make extreme ideological Left turns; and each time that he did so, some of his most ardent supporters reluctantly disengaged. Most black people were withholding judgment while trying to discern the motivation and the implication of a sudden cluster of Mr. Obama’s policy initiatives. There was bewilderment at all of the attention and controversy surrounding these Presidential pronouncements but it wasn’t nearly enough to obscure the glaring absence of a coherent African American domestic policy.
It had taken years for the emotional fog created by the exhilaration of President Obama’s first election to lift. During his second administration when the mystique finally began to evaporate, astute black Americans then realized that they had committed a tactical political blunder of epic proportion. Even worse, as President Obama entered the “lame duck” phase of his presidential tenure this political gaffe was compounded because he was now even less inclined to delve into the “hornet’s nest” of complex issues facing black communities for the purpose of resolution. Granted, that the election of a Republican president may not have produced increased interest in America’s black communities, or for that matter, a more capable leader; but more was expected of Mr. Obama because he was “one of us” and perceived to have a vested interest in the well-being and overall progress of black people in general. Nevertheless, there were subtle indications of what was about to transpire but these signals were obscured by the magnetic personality of the President. It has to be emphasized that the fundamental miscalculation of black Americans was the investment of their political hopes and dreams in the wholesale support and unconditional election of a presidential candidate who never once articulated the policy initiatives that he had in mind for them. Incredibly, the best black political minds in America chose to collectively ignore this gaping tactical oversight and surrender to political pretense. Perhaps it was the case that in the euphoria of having a black candidate in the presidential race, the serious question of accountability would have been too sobering a distraction. Seemingly President Obama’s team recognized this odd political situation and his “inner circle” of advisors further insulated him from affiliating too closely with the black masses. Unfortunately, President Obama did not have to court the black community to garner their votes…black Americans, in record numbers and in an unusual effort to display racial solidarity, lined up and willingly volunteered their votes: not once, but twice. How could this astounding allegiance occur in 21st century elective politics without the exacting of clearly understood tangible benefits in return?
Here’s how black America probably got into this ridiculous political position. It’s common knowledge that African Americans are vulnerable to the suggestions and opinions of black, high-profile media personalities; in particular energetic radio and TV types who combine entertainment with all-out, party-time political advocacy. These black celebrities are well known and continue their boosterism to this day. The partisan noise from this group of pop-culture figures and radio/television hosts was used theatrically to effectively overwhelm the ability of the masses of African Americans to employ reason in making informed political decisions or even knowing what questions to ask candidate Obama. Black Americans of a moderate to conservative persuasion were reluctant to chide America’s first black president to direct resources and programs toward African American communities for fear of being labeled as Obama detractors of the “crabs in a barrel” variety. Dissent directed toward President Obama or his policies was suddenly tantamount to racial betrayal. With the absence of an aggressive, countervailing, advocacy organization, moderate and conservative blacks settled into a period of quiet political acquiescence. Amazingly, the shock of President Obama’s evolution on gay marriage, his embracing of the illegal immigrant agenda and his patronizing chastising of an HBCU elicited only a tepid response from black people or their establishment designated black leaders. POTUS was evolving into the diametrical opposite of what black people naively thought he would represent. He was doing so to the rousing cheers of secular liberals who were hell-bent on destroying millennia of human social traditions. These astounding unilateral mandates were all made possible by Executive Order or by the selective enforcement of standing laws. Large numbers of African Americans who desperately wanted to continue their support for Mr. Obama gritted their teeth and begrudgingly attempted to accomodate the “new normal.”
The rush to legalize various social initiatives by President Obama, many of which were antithetical to the core values of the Black Church, but ideally suited for “new normal” ideologues, resulted in open congregational division in many black Houses of Worship. But so thorough was the black media’s early frenetic pitch for the support of candidate Obama, that now not a single black cleric would dare to now openly oppose the President’s radical social agenda. Dissent or criticism of Mr. Obama was now being effectively stifled and thwarted by an uneasy political correctness quandary stemming from the reluctance of black intellectuals to be viewed as overly critical of America’s highly esteemed, first black President. The net result of this situation was that the president was effectively absolved of any major obligations to the black community, even though black Americans had voted for him en-bloc at record levels. Without a coherent body of social, political and economic demands coming from the black body-politic, interest in African American issues withered, foundered and faded into irrelevance. Blacks who pressed the Obama administration too vigorously to take action on some of the problems plaguing the black community, soon found themselves isolated, ignored and ostracized by the Obama machine. Those black Americans who succeeded in gaining access to the President were so few and so eager to genuflect in his direction that they only succeeded in further immunizing him to black criticism. Meanwhile …deteriorating conditions in many black communities accelerated and intensified. Even today, the benign neglect of America’s black communities by the Obama administration continues its corrosive advance unchallenged, unrestrained and politely ignored.
The road to present-day African American political irrelevance, superficiality and impotence, was paved by the black communities own disc jockeys, rappers, teleprompter reading news personalities and the highest profile Hollywood types. It was from these pop-culture sources that the mantra for homosexual marriage slowly filtered into the greater black community, usually cloaked in buffoonish humor, but steadily increasing in urgency until it was assumed by black people to have been condoned by consensus. A constant barrage of anecdotal social trivia interrupted by comical political banter aimed at moving black political consciousness to the extreme Left was, and still is, aimed at the hearts and minds of the African American community. Many blacks voted for and attached themselves to Mr. Obama for the sheer joy of being a part of history being made in American elective politics. Such was the fervor that traditional black political leaders relinquished their normal role as statesmen in the elective process and essentially handed over the formation of political opinion in the black community to entertainers. What should have been a thoughtful deliberative process, the choosing of a leader, degenerated into an ongoing series of festive social affairs which minimized the chance that the public would notice the appalling conditions in the majority of the nation’s black communities. With an ever present opportunity to capture the political and moral high from the entertainment industry, inexplicably, the Black Congressional Caucus opted to head for the sidelines as an observer…not a participant. As an indication of the CBC’s negligible influence with the President, he has met with them on an average of once every two years…for about 90 minutes each session.
Without a cadre of experienced political advocates for African Americans in place during either of the Obama election campaign seasons, voices of precaution were quickly and rudely dispatched. Now the way was clear for inertial politics to be foisted upon the unsuspecting black masses. Nonetheless, black support for candidate Obama reached and sustained high levels of support in each elective contest. But there remained the persistent problem of a glaring absence of any form of a quid pro quo in the relationship between Mr. Obama and his faithful black loyalists. The topic was so sensitive that it was politely, but nervously, ignored and a conspiracy of silence settled over the issue. When the carnival atmosphere that accompanied President Obama’s two elections subsided, only Tavis Smiley and Cornell West, among prominent African American political theorists/leaders, stood apart from the throngs of sycophants lining up to bask in the reflected light of the newly re-elected President Obama. None of the Obama administration surrogates have however, ventured forth to challenge or agree to debate the merits of these men’s criticisms of the Obama administrations. There are even subtle indications now that West and Smiley may ultimately emerge from their period of political banishment as vindicated visionaries. And though the media has eased up on Tavis and Cornell somewhat, neither of them has returned to the status they enjoyed during their pre-Obama days.
History, as usual, will be the judge of President Obama’s tenure as America’s Chief Executive. What that history must record without prejudice, is whether or not the American black community made progress on his watch. That he made no campaign promises to revive the nation’s black communities is sad, but true. There was simply an erroneous but reasonable assumption on the part of black voters that his election had ushered in an era of newfound respect for, and interest in, the plight of black America; an unfounded, unspoken notion allowed to lodge itself in the vulnerable minds of black Americans. And therein lies the crux of the tragic disconnect that West and Smiley tried valiantly and unsuccessfully to warn against. To counter this grievous oversight, these two began to call for accountability from President Obama and soon thereafter discovered that their message no longer had an audience and that they themselves had been isolated and discredited.
In the heat of an early political speech 5 days before his historic election as president, Mr. Obama announced to a politically charged crowd, that his goal as POTUS would be to “fundamentally transform America.” Not many African Americas were quite sure what that vague declaration actually meant. It appears to have been just another platitude-riddled political spiel implying a “new day” but short on the specifics of the planned transformation. Very quickly it became apparent that this transformative vision was focused well beyond the complex, recurring, debilitating problems of Detroit, Chicago and Newark …to notions of social engineering, income redistribution and the like. The obvious uncertainty in all of this was whether or not the President’s notion of transformation necessarily included the assurance of progress for African Americans and consequently justified more than a glance askew at their plight?
Take a casual drive through any of the black enclaves in most of America’s major cities and the answer to the “transformation” as it applies to these Americans becomes self-evident. There has been absolutely no perceptible progress and no detectable change remotely related to positive transformation within that demographic. So perhaps, President Obama’s transcendent elections were actually a pair of “Pyrrhic Victories” for the masses of hopeful African Americans…and they are now too ashamed to claim their error and too constrained by political correctness to publically discuss their astonishingly senseless political mistake.