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Vacation over; pressure Obama, docile African-American voters
By Wayne Dawkins
African-American voters must end their vacation and get to work. This constituency must make the president work harder for them.
That was the clearest message I heard Saturday from six political scientists and legal experts during the “From Black Power to Barack Obama” panel at the Harlem Book Fair.
The lineup included Peniel Joseph of Tufts University; Yohuru Williams of the American Institute for History Education; Steve Clark of Pathfinder Press; Gloria Browne-Marshall of John Jay College; Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor; Jelani Cobb of Spelman College, and moderator, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry.
Here’s the deal: Obama’s approval rating this week dipped below 50 percent, according to two leading polls, yet his approval rating still stands at 90 percent among black voters. Such misguided loyalty, said several speakers, amounts to lounging around by African-American voters when they should be agitating for change.
They are the constituency tolerating nearly 20 percent black male unemployment when the general U.S. population is at near revolt according the new polls because joblessness has melted only to 9.5 percent from last year’s Great Recession double digits.
Make no mistake, Obama is working hard and delivering landmark results. Wall Street reform passed the U.S. Senate this week and the president is expected to sign the bill into law within days. Health care reform that demanded an unwavering, high-stakes fight became law this year and the ideas are now shifting to practice.
Moreover, this week the Justice Department conducted a crack down on criminals who for years have been siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars from Medicaid and Medicare. It’s a new day.
Despite these tangible, healing results, most Americans polled are unhappy with Obama’s performance. The evaluations are overly harsh, and stingy for very good work accomplished; still Obama knew what he signed up for.
Furthermore, he is a politician and will respond to political pressure. As one of the panelists noted, Obama did not want to move right away on repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” for gays in the military because of all the other economic demands on his plate, but gay activists were chaining themselves to the White House to get his attention. The president responded to their pressure.
So what are African-American voters waiting for?
Browne-Marshall, a constitutional law scholar, urged this constituency to “take it to the streets,” but added the proviso “urgently, but thoughtfully.”
Her advice paralleled what the late UCLA basketball legend John Wooden told his student-athletes, “be quick, but don’t hurry.”
African-American voters for the most part have been sitting on the bench or vacationing – chose either metaphor – during these bruising policy battles.
It’s time to get off the loungers and into the game.