A friend of mine recently asked me if I thought the President would get reelected. I didn’t equivocate. “Sure, he will”, I said matter-of-factly, but I must confess that neither one of us were excited about it. There was no knowing grin on either of our faces, like there often was, a few years ago, when the nation was on precipice of electing its first African-American President. No, we simply acknowledged that Mr. Obama would probably win and turned the conversation to a more scintillating topic: whether the NFL lockout will end giving us professional football again this fall.
That’s the president’s problem; he’s lost my attention and that of an untold number of highly astute Black politicos and intellectuals. Due to his inaction on campaign promises and his major policy reversals on issues the issues that matter most, he can no longer count me among his staunch supporters and a lot of people are saying the same thing.
Three years after beating Hillary Clinton with a soaring vision of progressive change and after out thinking John McCain to the White House with preternatural grace and confidence, he now seems bereft of those qualities. The Presidency seems to have sapped the Obama mojo in a way that it never did to my favorite president, JFK—who remained cool, confident and determined until the end. Perhaps it’s a matter of authenticity—pressure has an unerring tendency to find our weaknesses. Perhaps it’s outright fear—JFK’s presidency did not end well.
Next year, it is likely that President Obama will benefit from a Republican field that's either insane comatose or both. He will surely get another four years. But, the question I'm beginning to ask, along with the rest of his base, is how would such an outcome benefit me? The optics of having a smart, Nobel Prize winning Black President, who "acts" smooth and "talks" cool, don't outweigh having actual policies that support the poor and have the middle class’s back and ensure that moneyed interests and their monopolies don’t run roughshod over the constitution. Not anymore.
I’m disappointed. Hope is as aspirational as it is audacious. Change connotes movement, a deviation from existing realities. I don’t want a President to be a moderating force on Tea Party fascism, leading to nothing but the maintenance of the status quo. I want a progressive President leading the country, shepherding us toward a more perfect union, broadening the social contract, and giving those of us who have mostly experienced nightmares at the hands of America, a dream to grasp. I thought that Mr. Obama would be that President. So far, he is not.
African-American men are tough, as a rule and we’ve had to be. Throughout our history in America, a veritable mountain range of hate has been placed in our path. As our rite of passage to manhood, we have had to move those mountains in order to achieve the most basic progress. Despite his unusual background and upbringing our President has rooted himself in that tradition.
Not surprisingly, during the early days of the last Presidential campaign, the questions about Barack Obama didn’t go to his resilience or even his competence but to his Blackness. He was attacked for being too Black by his opponents (beginning with Hillary Clinton), who concocted the Rev. Wright controversy to drive a wedge with white voters, while being simultaneously attacked by the civil rights old guard (also at the behest of Hillary Clinton) for not being Black enough. But he stood tall in the tradition of Black men under fire, channeling both Martin’s prophetic oratory and Malcolm’s defiant dignity and he overcame in the end.
But, after two years of watching him back pedal in the face of nearly every Republican demand, it is clear that our first African-American President while Black enough to give dap (those complicated handshakes indigenous to the black community) in barbershops or bob his head rhythmically to Lil Wayne’s percussive raps, is inexplicably not tough enough to stand up to reactionary Republicans hell bent on destroying progressive policies enacted during the New Deal and the great Society.
Yes, I think he’ll win but how will my life be different than it was under his predecessor? On matters of unnecessary wars, Guantanamo Bay military tribunals, the myriad crimes of the Bush Administration, domestic economic policy and incessant Republican meddling in the self-governance of my native Washington, DC, I used to be able to answer that question. I can’t anymore.
I’m no fair weather Democrat—I plan to vote as always. But, I will do so less cheerfully. I will not give my hard earned dollars as I did four years ago (I have far less to give these days anyway), nor will I organize get out the vote rallies and shuttle elected officials around on the President’s behalf as I once did. Mr. Obama has unfocused me as an activist and thus, at the beginning of the Presidential campaign cycle and the historic reelection effort of the first Black President of the United States, my level of interest is commensurate with his demonstrated interest in me.
I am directing my hopes for change elsewhere this year. I sure hope the lockout ends. I’m looking forward to football season.