Being first is never easy. It brings with it the weight of generations of aspirations along with countless and often divergent dreams of what could be. Over the course of the last four years, President Obama has traversed this delicate and lonely path under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. He has faced down a worldwide financial collapse after inheriting an American economy in free-fall. Along the way he has led the nation to a measured yet persistent recovery, one that has in fact outperformed some of our closest European allies, counterparts whose policies his political foes have persistently sought to emulate. He has maintained what could only be described as a super-human level of dignity, strength, and thoughtful leadership within a political environment that has been nothing short of toxic, rife with vitriol, clear instances of race-based hate, and a carefully plotted unprecedented level of partisan stonewalling, relentless opposition, and plain old-fashioned disrespect. He has faced nothing less than a political perfect storm the likes of which experienced never before in the history of presidential politics.
Yet, for a loud and persistent cadre of self-appointed authentically Black critics, his presidency has been cast as nothing short of an outright failure; if not for the nation, than certainly for Black America. They point to the President’s reluctance to articulate and implement a specifically race-based strategy for attacking things like the wide and stubbornly persistent gaps in poverty, unemployment, wealth, and criminal justice interactions which most certainly exist within the divergent experiences of white and Black America. And they ask the poignant question, after four years of a long-awaited Black Presidency, how could this be?
Further, they seem compelled to attack Black intelligencia and their own narrowly defined notions of Black leadership — a notion that somehow displays a consistent and uncanny tendency to define Black leaders as male-only by design — and then question the effectiveness of that leadership or the motivations of that intelligencia if they fail to display an obsessive-compulsive public tendency to call the President out on what they have couched as nothing short of the abandonment of Black America. In short, they seem to suggest that those who are not openly critical of the first Black President, are somehow themselves, not Black enough, or at minimum, Black with a heavy dose of naiveté.
As someone who has now for twenty years actively worked within the Washington, DC policy-arena, and doesn’t merely pontificate on theories of how politics should work, or seek to augment my income by peddling Obama-bashing books, or engage in corporately funded (at least in part) Obama-bashing tours, I can unabashedly state that in this socio-political environment, an explicitly stated Black-agenda would have torpedoed the Obama presidency faster than you can say, “Who sank my Battleship?”
As we stand on the verge of this President’s true test of history, whether or not a Black President can win re-election in an increasingly racist country, we need to take seriously our responsibility on Election Day.
As we face our choices, or God-forbid, struggle with the notion of whether or not to vote at all, at this stage in the game, we should ask ourselves not what our Black President can do for us, but instead, what can we do for our Black President?
The stakes faced on November 6 are just too high to get caught in the trap of who does and who does not on a consistent basis brandish their Blackness card in gaudy fashion around their neck like some modern-day morphing of Mr. T and 2 Chainz.
For the moment, it’s time to squash that foolishness.
Having our reflection in the oval office is still, for us, a new thing. We understand outsider politics. We’re good at it. And through our effectiveness, we have opened doors over the centuries that today not only us, but countless others walk though. But we don’t have long-standing experience playing the game of insider Presidential politics. No, not at this level, not from this perspective, a view that others have enjoyed consistently as long as this nation has been in existence, that is, until just four years ago.
Yet to be successful, we have to embody the type of political sophistication and savviness exhibited by people who’ve been there before. Winning this game is about knowing when to go all in, when to sit it out, when to let it ride, and when to step away. If ever there was a time to go to the mat for this President, that time is now.
The next President will determine the trajectory of this nation for decades to come. He will most likely have the opportunity to make one or more lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court — a power with severe implications, shaping this nation’s interpretation of rights for generations.
The next President will either protect things like expansions to Pell grants, increased funding for HBCUs, and keeping student loan interest rates low, or let those efforts for making college more affordable and accessible, simply fall by the wayside.
The next President will determine if access to health care will continue to be expanded to millions or if we will go back to the days of severe restrictions on coverage, such as leaving behind people with pre-existing conditions, or forcing the most disadvantaged among us to wait for hours on-end in emergency rooms to access the most basic of care.
The next President will either support issues important to women, such as equal pay for equal work, stand up and push for vital legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act, and support widely distributed access to free women’s health care services like annual well-woman visits and mammograms or he will not.
The next President will either protect a woman’s right to make her own choice about her own body and respect her deeply personal decisions surrounding child-bearing, or he will actively work against her individual rights, potentially in the most extreme ways possible, such as Vice-Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan’s hair-brained scheme to actually redefine rape.
Let me be clear. We cannot, we must not, stand on the sidelines and merely watch as others who have brilliantly manipulated our current socio-economic environment now reap the spoils of their schemes by punking us into believing that we’re better off without a Black man in the White House.
Let us never forget that on the very day that President Obama took his oath of office, behind closed doors in an exclusive Washington, DC restaurant, no less that fifteen top Republican lawmakers and strategists, Vice Presidential Candidate Ryan among them, assembled to plot the destruction of this administration from day one. As reported by Robert Draper, for several hours they met, discussing not only how to win back political power, but further, how to halt any and all progress on Obama’s legislative agenda. By the time they parted, they had agreed on the following:
- First, show united and unyielding opposition to the President’s economic policies. Eight days later, House Republicans voted unanimously against the President’s stimulus plan.
- Second, begin attacking vulnerable Democrats on the airwaves relentlessly. Within the President’s first two months in office, the first RNC ads started running across the country in an attempt to influence the 2010 elections and undermine public support for the Obama administration.
- Next, win the House of Representatives in 2010, jab Obama relentlessly in 2011, and win the White House and the Senate in 2012.
As they departed the restaurant that evening, Newt Gingrich was reported as saying, “You will remember this day. You’ll remember this as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown.”
That’s not all we should remember.
We should also keep in mind that at precisely the time that all of this plotting and political positioning was taking place, the nation faced an economic calamity of nearly unprecedented proportions. And while millions were losing their jobs, their homes, and their life savings, in the midst of all of this, Obama’s political foes were more than willing to just let us all (not just Detroit) go bankrupt.
Yet even with these political foes fighting relentlessly to actually exacerbate human suffering in order to plant seeds from which they could reap political benefits in the years to come, it was this President that was able to break through just enough to eventually generate 31 straight months of private sector jobs growth, creating an environment that led to 5.2 million jobs created in less than four years; more by the way, then what George Bush mustered to cobble together throughout his two-term Presidency. Do we need more jobs, especially within the Black community?
But if you think for one moment that Black America would be better off with the people in charge that poured salt in our wounds rather than to get on board a clearly sinking ship and bail water with the rest of us, you are sadly mistaken.
Now, am I saying that Blacks should merely vote for a second term for President Obama completely devoid of the expectation of anything in return? Not at all. As I’ve said many times, the act of voting is merely the starting gun of political activism, it is by no means the finish line. But what I am saying is that we need to recognize that effective political outcomes require both outside and inside strategies. They require both a grassroots push, that by the way, typically don’t come from Ivy League professors, and they also necessitate high-level negotiations from the inside. This is how the big boys have played the game from the beginning. We have to start getting comfortable and adept at moving the ball that exists away from the public eye. This type of game, not unlike the grand scheme to take down the President, is purposely not visible for all to see. Not every pawn is on bold display. We must reach the level of political maturation to understand that advancements in the age of Obama will not come by squeaky wheels alone.
The most important question we will wrestle with on Tuesday, is whether or not come Wednesday, we’ll still have a place on the field of play?
I hope for our sake, we do.