More keen grasping of the obvious
This past Saturday, President Barack Obama addressed the Ghanaian parliament, extending America's hand to the African continent while condemning corruption and tyranny.
"No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves," he said.
He could have been talking about Detroit. And when he came to Metro Detroit on Tuesday, Obama conspicuously did not set foot in the city -- the nation's largest black urban center plagued by corruption, illiteracy and crime. Detroit, it seems, is less Ghana and more gangrene in the national political consciousness. And with the presidential snub, Obama appears to have fanned the feelings of hopelessness and isolation in the city.
"We're black and he got our vote quite frankly because many of us voted for him because he is black," said Karsem McCurtis on Tuesday, whose family owns Conner's Food, just a stone's throw from the Wayne County Community College campus on Detroit's east side. As it happened, Obama chose Macomb Community College in Warren to unveil a national education initiative.
"It would have been good for him to come," said McCurtis, whose building is painted with an Obama mural. "But he's got our vote locked up, and he's not going to get much play coming to a black city full of corrupt politicians."
McCurtis makes the obvious point about a city that has become the nation's punch line: Kwame Kilpatrick, Monica Conyers, school officials stealing millions from the children, a murder rate that tops the nation, an illiteracy rate of 50 percent and tens of thousands of crumbling buildings. The list goes on.
The White House said it had no comment as to the reason for the president's fly-by of Detroit on his first trip to the state since his election, except to say that he wishes he could have spent the whole day in Michigan.
"I have to say I'm disappointed," said Jerome Smith, an unemployed machinist from Detroit, who was standing at the bus stop at Macomb Community College as the president's motorcade arrived. "Have you seen him rub shoulders with blacks in this country? On the international stage, yes. South of Eight Mile, no."
The president will address the national convention of the NAACP this Friday. It will be his first speech to a predominately African-American audience since taking office.
Obama won 97 percent of the vote in Detroit, totaling more than 325,000 votes. In Macomb County, he took 53 percent, totaling just less than 224,000. That is a difference of 100,000 votes, but still Detroit was not important enough to visit.
Macomb County -- 90 percent white and 40 percent Catholic -- is the one-time home of the famed Reagan Democrats, the working-class whites who famously flipped for Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, based in part on his appeal to their racial grievances.
Obama has neatly sidestepped the issue of race so far, blaming global trade and greedy CEOs as the cause of the sliding middle class way of life.
It is this large group of white voters that Obama must maintain if he is to push through his ambitious plans for health care reform, renewable energy and perhaps a second stimulus package.
"It's the white swing voter he's after," said Adolph Mongo, the brass-knuckled political consultant based in Detroit. "His people are telling him that Macomb County is the major player in Michigan. He snubbed the largest population of black folks in America. He's making a big mistake. He needs to come to Detroit and reassure people that what he's pushing is going to help everybody."
"It was a huge snub," said L. Brooks Patterson, the Republican Oakland County executive. "Why would he want to get near Detroit considering the awful national publicity over the past few years?"
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said Obama has an open invitation. "Although he has not visited the city as president, it is important to note Mr. Obama has been working hard with Mayor Bing on behalf of the residents of the city," Bing said in a statement.
In the meantime, Detroit continues to empty out. Paulette Bouyer, the gun-toting church lady who was featured in these pages in January after her west-side home was broken into during broad daylight, is moving to Patterson's Oakland County. "The president can't wave a magic wand and make Detroit all right," Bouyer said. "The people have to demand more than thievery from their politicians. But you wish he would have come here for 10 minutes."
One really has to understand the Detroit area to understand the impact of this. Macomb county has been one of the most racist counties in the state. It has traditionally been the least black county in Metro Detroit.
Man...hhmmmmm....I wonder what the theme of Obama's address to the NAACP will be this Friday. Any guesses?