In a recent interview with the German publication Der Spiegel, Jesse Jackson outlined his severe disappointment with President Obama’s service to the African-American community. Noting that black Americans were among his first supporters and that 96% of us voted for him in 2008, Jackson slammed the president for completely failing to address our political needs. He called Obama on his naivete in dealing with the Republican party, which has been ruthless in cutting programs benefiting working Americans while deflecting tax increases for the rich. From black unemployment to our deeper mortgage crisis, the president has failed — according to Jackson — to implement a single plan to ameliorate the black community’s troubles. Meanwhile, billions of dollars are being pumped into foreign nations like Afghanistan and Iraq to support democracy. What about the lack of fair opportunity here at home for African-Americans?
Jackson believes Obama is giving away too much affecting blacks and the poor, wrongly anticipating that the GOP will play fair in return. He elaborated to Der Spiegel on the president’s miscalculations in appeasing the right:
[Obama] underestimates how ideological the other side is, and how determined they are to destroy him, even when their actions harm the nation’s economy and millions of people. I think reconciliation is Obama’s goal — but the fight with the Republicans is like a fight with pit bulls, they never let go. Even worse, now the Republicans feel they can keep pushing and he will keep giving. They have not seen a stiff resistance on his part. The American people on the ground need a clearer, stronger, Lyndon B. Johnson-type voice from their president. Obama has that voice. It has to be used. For instance, I hear he will be taking a bus tour around the country now. I think that should have happened before the debt ceiling negotiations, so that people in every state know what they have to lose if the federal budget is cut even further.
Jesse Jackson goes on to offer some sympathy for Obama, claiming to understand that he is in a difficult bind as our first African-American president. Bringing up Bill Clinton — who many affectionately call the “real” first black president — Jackson details how this former POTUS was free to court blacks directly because being white released him from possible accusations of favoritism. But Jackson does not see Obama’s race quandary as enough of an excuse for abandoning the community that made him.
To this point he told Der Spiegel: “The black community was essential for Obama’s victory. He must nurture that base if he wants to be re-elected.”
Numerous African-American leaders have voiced the same sentiment. Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West have been two of the most prolific Obama haters on the scene, having recently joined forces to trash the president’s debt ceiling compromise. Tavis recently called the deal a “declaration of war on the poor” while seated side-by side with West on CNN’s “American Morning.” We can only expect Obama’s negative performance ratings regarding blacks and the poor to increase in number during the months leading up to serious 2012 campaigning.
Yes, it is true that the president has failed to address blacks’ needs directly. While Obama has thrown us a couple of bones through symbolic gestures like making an appearance at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network conference, on the record he has stated his belief that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The president seems certain that any systemic racism blacks face can be thwarted by increasing overall opportunity. This certainty precludes the creation of special programs to address blacks’ issues.
That is an ironic stance in light of last week’s announcement by Mayor Bloomberg of sweeping measures to help black and Latino men specifically in New York City. Despite the many opportunities in what many consider the capital of the world, these youths are among the most excluded from the city’s social, economic and intellectual life. Rather than waiting for the environment to automatically “lift” these young men of color — which hasn’t happened after many years of status quo policies — Bloomberg decided to help this community which was clearly being underserved. Some might see this as favoritism now, but when these men are steered away from a life of crime because they have better avenues of growth, all of society will benefit.
President Obama could learn a lot from Mayor Bloomberg in this regard, which is utterly shocking. Bloomberg is a registered Republican, but is less interested in the rhetoric of his party than doing what practically right. If a billionaire GOPer can see the need for programs that target the needs of black men, Obama should realize that blacks nationwide need the same assistance.
If the president does not address blacks’ needs in a similar fashion, many might jump ship instead of waiting for a theoretical tide to give us a boost.