Date: Thursday, November 4, 2010
By: Michael H. Cottman, BlackAmericaWeb.com
For President Barack Obama, Tuesday’s hostile take-over of the House of Representatives by Republicans was a stunning political setback, a fundamental rejection of Obama’s sweeping legislative agenda.
It was also Obama’s first failure as president to rally black Americans around a slate of Democratic candidates during a critical mid-term election cycle. Unfortunately for Obama, black voters, collectively, did not answer his call.
Obama now faces a harsh political reality: The historic shift in power in Washington, D.C. that resulted from Tuesday’s elections could stall parts of the president’s ambitious initiatives for the next two years, unless he decides to compromise with a GOP that he has described as misguided and irresponsible.
“All sides are going to have to compromise to get anything done,” Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist, told BlackAmericaWeb.com Wednesday. “It’s easier said than done, however.”
Obama will likely experience political gridlock like he’s never seen as president – the same kind of extreme partisan divisions he vowed to mediate from his White House perch.
In 2008, the president campaigned as a national healer who would cut through the hardcore Washington politics and unite both parties. Starting this week, Obama will get his chance to prove that he’s a genuine consensus builder.
During a White House press conference Wednesday, Obama appeared humbled and admitted that he took a “shellacking” in Tuesday’s elections.
“This is something that I think every president needs to go through because the responsibilities of this office are so enormous and so many people are depending on what we do,” Obama said, “and in the rush of activity, sometimes we lose track of the ways that we connected with folks that got us here in the first place.”
“I’m sure there are easier ways to learn these lessons,” he added. “But I do think that this is a growth process and an evolution.”
As part of Obama’s growth process, perhaps the president will reflect on the particular economic needs of the black community and ask himself – and his political advisors - why many black voters did not respond to his request for a strong turn-out on Tuesday.
Despite his last-minute pleas on black radio, many African-Americans largely sat out on Tuesday because they were disengaged. Obama not only failed to rally women, independents and college students around Democrats, but he also failed to fire up his own black base.
Perhaps black voters didn’t turn out Tuesday because Obama’s name was not on the ballot. Or maybe Obama hasn't visited enough black neighorhoods as president. With the black unemployment rate rising to 15.6 percent, some civil rights activists say Obama could rally the faithful simply by addressing the black unemployment crisis directly – and publicly.
The collapse of the economy has taken its toll on families everywhere, and black Americans are frustrated and angry, too. Many black professionals tell BlackAmericaWeb.com that Obama can’t expect the black vote again simply because he’s black – African-Americans need a legitimate reason to enthusiastically support Obama’s candidacy.
“Frankly, I’m tired of defending Obama,” one lifelong black Democrat told BlackAmericaWeb.com Wednesday.
Obama is recovering from a strategic body blow in the form of Republicans gaining at least 60 seats in the House - the largest victory for either party since 1948. The GOP is hoping to capitalize on voter anger toward Democrats and turn Obama into a one-term president.
Republicans are already preparing to repeal Obama’s controversial health care legislation, and there’s also talk that the GOP wants to abort Obama’s stimulus plan, saying the sweeping initiative is driving up the federal deficit.
“Yesterday’s vote confirmed what I've heard from folks all across America,” Obama said Wednesday. “People are frustrated. They’re deeply frustrated with the pace of our economic recovery. They want jobs to come back faster, they want paychecks to go further.”
And African-Americans want to believe that America’s first black president embraces their concerns during tough economic times.
Obama and Democrats need an immediate, aggressive, nationwide plan to inspire the black electorate. With the presidential election two years away, Obama can’t afford to take his message to black voters two weeks before the election. He must begin to solidify his relationship with the black community today - city by city, block by block.
“So, the question I think that my Republican friends and me and Democratic leaders are going to have answer is what are our priorities?” Obama asked. “What do we care about?”
It’s a great question – and black Americans who stood in line for hours to elect Obama in 2008 deserve a straightforward answer today.