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Obama: Another disappointing black politician? [Most Commented]

West-PerryPresident Obama's status as a black politician was the subject of debate last month between two black scholars who argued that the president had not urgently addressed black issues.  Princeton professor Cornel West argued that Obama has been adopting a white, elite agenda, and Princeton scholar and Nation columnist Melissa Harris-Perry said the president has been hindered by right-wing racism against him. Erin Aubry Kaplan, contributing Opinion editor to the Times, said West and Harris-Perry's disagreement is bigger than Obama; it revives the historic argument between black leaders' strategies of assimilation and nationalism. Here's an excerpt:

But Obama is a product of institutions. He is a fortunate middle-class son of the post-'60s, pro-integration era whose own success was due less to black empowerment than adherence to mainstream mores and values. Black nationalism or any clear support of black unity or racial justice is an anathema to those values; it certainly would have doomed Obama politically. This is true even though politically speaking, the president owes blacks as much as he owes Jews or any other constituency that voted for him in significant numbers. […]

But putting aside the question of whether Obama is in a position to do much of anything, can principles of assimilation and black unity coexist at the top? Can they coexist at all? The big unstated fear among many blacks, including West, is that Obama will turn out to be yet another disappointing black politician, one who readily articulates the needs of those at the bottom but doesn't ultimately address them. That's a crisis of another color.

Readers are criticizing both West’s argument and Obama. Here is what they’re saying:

Voters always face disappointment

Welcome to the real world.  Everyone who has ever supported a political candidate has been disappointed that they didn't follow through with every promise (spoken or assumed) once in office.  It has nothing to do with racism.  EVERY president faces an organized opposition:  it's called the "two-party system" and it existed long before the first Black president took office (I mean Obama, not Clinton...he the reputed victim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy") 

The argument over nationalism or assimilation with regard to President Obama's ascent in politics may be legitimate, but mistaking political opposition for racism is excuse-making that betrays ignorance of the American political system and is, therefore, counterproductive.

-- LindaB

Opposition is because of policies, not race

I don't understand this at all.  Why do arguments like this always get back around to racism?  Yes, I am white, but I don't look at Obama as "a black president," but as "my president."  When I see opposition, it isn't because the president is black; the opposition I see is due to his policies, his decisions, his actions (or lack thereof).

-- menotyou2011

West’s criticism is hypocritical

Isn't it strange that Cornel West, who preaches "race first, last, and always", is a professor at Princeton, and not say a professor at Howard, Wilberforce, or some other traditionally black university? That it is OK for him to work (and play) in the non-black world, but he wants other blacks to stay homeboys? Maybe he fears competition, competition from other blacks that might be smarter then him, and expose him for what he is, just another race-baiter.     

-- edwardskizer

Race is not a factor in Obama’s poor performance

Obama is not a poor performing black President, he is just a poor performing president, period.

-- masjig

Obama already hindered without prioritizing black issues

Could you imagine if Obama really was a black-issues first president, as West wants him to be? Could you imagine the level of resistance from right-wing groups?....Obama is handcuffed like no one I've ever seen, and yet has still managed to enact progressive legislation -- flawed as it may be...

I am white, and yet I fear the "white, moneyed elite," as any rational person should. Too many voters worship success and status, as end in themselves, and I am afraid it will be that tendency that allows a "successful businessman" like Mitt Romney to slip into the White House -- a businessman whose "success" was achieved by firing American workers and shipping jobs overseas....

-- Scott sacramento

He’s president of a multi-ethnic nation, not black America

This makes me crazy.  As a black American, Obama is not President of black Americans, he is President of a multi-ethnic country, period.  He of course has to have the overall benefit of ALL Americans at the top of his agenda.  And lets not forget that Obama is HALF black - his white mother and grandmother ensured his education and upbringing.  It is horrible how everyone wants to dismiss their contribution.  While I respect Cornell West, he is self-aggrandizing thinking that the President, any President, should listen to him.  Please!

-- Jezzoid

For black voters, Obama is better than the GOP

I have followed this story, and it certainly gives one much to think about. But there is no real, meaningful rift among blacks about Obama. He will do 95 percent with black voters, or probably higher, in 2012. I'm fairly confident Obama will get the vote of Cornel West and everyone else in the black community when it comes down to a choice of him and whatever right-winger the GOP throws up there. Presidential elections are binary choices -- we receive sharp reminders of that every four years.

What I do hear more often among my fellow African Americans is the sense that Obama is not being "given a chance" by the media and the white world. I think that complaint is somewhat overblown, but it's a firmly held belief by many black Americans. As a result many of them, including his critics, have a vested interest in seeing him re-elected and will try to make that happen.

Lastly, I disagree this is an issue of assimilation vs. non-assimilation. Black people have the capacity to understand that the person serving as president must represent all Americans, and the question of whether Obama is "black enough" has long been settled within the community. (Though the mainstream has forgotten, we all remember how he stood up for Henry Louis Gates against the invading police force.) The issues some folks have with him are over policy -- and there's nothing unusual or wrong about that.

-- MyronB.Pitts


*Spelling errors in the above comments were corrected. 


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Photo: Left to right: Cornel West and Melissa Harris-Perry. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times;  Chaz Neill / PictureGroup / Associated Press


Comments () | Archives (34)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Eugene Drzymala

First of all, President Obama is a product of Hawaii, not the mainland, as we in Hawaii refer to. Being on a "pinhead in the middle of the Pacific Ocean", we have all learned to get along with each other, despite class, religion, or race. Professor West must have grown up in the angry 60s and 70s with the Rev. Jesse Jackson crowd. The President has nothing to be ashamed of just because his grandmother had him enrolled at Punahou, which encourages their students to strive for excellence. Hawaii is a place where people flow and angry people are gently cajoled and encouraged, due to the high oriental influence, to join the flow and respecr each others' trips, no matter the difference. Call it zen as the mass media prefers, but, in essence he's really just a "bruddah" from Hawaii. He's a role model African Americans, as well as all other races should be able to embrace and emulate. Assimilation IS a way of life in Hawaii and always has been. That is the President's attraction to voters, not his color. The sooner my beloved country can rid itself of looking at people by color and treat people as they would be treated, the sooner all of us will succeed in achieving true equality and freedom. Perhaps that's what Professor tru;ly need to define: What exactly is a free man?

Gordon Santa Monica

Assimilation of Obama
What the H@#$ is going on here? Barack Obama is a Racial amalgamation of a White Irish American woman and a Black Kenyan African male. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was born in Wichita, Kansas and was of mostly English descent. His father, Barack Obama, Sr., was a Luo from Nyang'oma Kogelo, Nyanza Province, Kenya.
His ancestry includes … Irish and German
Free black man .. heck he is a free man.
What we as a people must learn is that while it is true that we as individuals relate and hold dear our ethnicity, or religion or any other characteristic that ties us to a particular group. At the same time as a nation … as young as we are …. Our survival requires us to unify with one another into the melting pot the United States was designed to proudly display to the rest of the world.
Your last paragraph is another example of whinning and total selfishness. The President takes the oath of office to protect and defend the united States and the Constitution.
The oath is as follows … "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The Preamble of the Constitution starts out with …. “We the People” …. That is what President Obama is all about …. “We the People” not one or another group of people but “We the People”.
Come on scholars it is one thing to be wishful but the whining is embarrassing to listen to all the time.
There is room in this country for both Assimilation and Nationalism. In this case the nationalism refers to one’s own group unity.


Obama is President for all off the American people and should not have a special agenda for one group base on race. I can understand that he might favor his political party, but blacks pinning their hopeas on hime to cut them a special piece of the pie is wrong.

Regardless of his gentic make up he is still a lousy President.

Ed Murphy

As a right wing caucasian, I very much admire both Herman Cain and Allen West, and would support either of them for president faster than one could scream Bye Bye Barack you America-hating putz! I guess that makes me a racist.


When people expect a certain type of behaviour or preferment based on a person's ethnicity or race that is called RACISM.
Obama is president of the USA a disparate and varied place. His policies of trying to repair the Bush mayhem have made him unpopular with the self seeking right but Obama has held the economy and the country together despite these people and their 5th column approach to life.The story here is one of racist nonsense.

Michael E

The real slavery, is that Blacks tie themselves to the Democratic Party, a political group treats them like slaves, too many promises and never a day off!!


Obama is a success not a disappointment. He shows everyone that despite opposition, you too can be successful and not a victim. The government isn't going to save you, you have to do it yourself.


I had no idea that blacks were the majority in this country. Since when do blacks feel "hurt" that their agenda is to be considered above Asians, Hispanics and most of all whites - who are the MAJORITY?
If you really want to be among the majority, there is Africa - where American blacks failed in the Liberian experiment.
Obama is not the product of Hawaii as he also lived in Chicago just as long. And the people of color in Hawaii are as racist as can be - especially to white children. But, also to white adults. Recently, to my WHITE HUSBAND. And I'm not going to forget it!
Obama is a failure because he's so indoctrinated with the nonsense that
"If black people ain't happy, then no one can be happy."

Mr. Z

The depth of ignorance inside the Republican party still astonishes me!

I know that when Obama wins again in 2012 & the worthless Republicans are sent packing. You are going to cry foul, say it's rigged & spread more lies.

In the end you will want to take up arms & challenge everybody who is not one of you. You will want to start another civil war & blood will be shed again by your side first!

You can't help yourself, because the depth of your ignorance & hate will force you to take human life time & time again.


Wake up Black Leaders. Stop being so racial. It's about America, not your race exclusively. Obama is a fine man and about AMERICA. Not about whiny Black leaders.


Whatever he is, he's the most effective President in generations.


Look, the bottom line comes down to too many people expecting too much from this man. Simply put, no president could possibly be expected to deliver as much as he was expected to. Obama's struggles heightens how deep a mess this country he was in as he took office. Too many people looked at him to be a savior. And in trying to appease the masses, he has sunk himself and this country into a deeper hole. Even as the "most powerful person on the planet," he is still very much limited in what he can really do. That being said, because the republican field is quite feeble, his only real challenge will come from another black man. One Herman Cain.


This is just a typical Marxist Democrat ruse. The concept is for a Marxist to attack from the left thus giving the State-Controlled Media an opportunity to run a propaganda piece portraying Clueless Comrade Barry as a moderate.

Marxist Democrats already know the importance of not scaring off independents by letting the extent of their true ideology be known. That is why they are always trying to paint freedom fighters as ideologues.

It's a straw man argument that attempts to carve out some non-existent middle ground by declaring themselves above ideological bias - which is in and of itself a disingenuous position. The default position to having no philosophy of government isn’t Marxism. It’s anarchy. And even anarchy could be argued to be an ideology.

The fact is we now have the most radical Marxist Regime in the history of the United States.

And it is not working.

Look for more faux attacks from the left as we get closer to November 2012.

The Marxist Democrats have got to do something.

They sure can't run on "Four More Years".


I doubt that this is predominantly a racially centered concern but rather a concern centered around performance. Quit dwelling on race!!! Tiring.


President Obama is both half-right and half-wrong. I'm not talking about race, but policies. He's been right on Afghanistan and going after Osama bin Laden. That was gutsy. I'm not in favor of the health care law nor his position on the Israel and Palestinian dispute and peace process or Libya. Or his position on immigration reform. He's come out stronger against efforts to decriminalize marijuana and other drugs and has been prosecuting efforts against Mexican drug cartels fairly well. But, right now, he's dealing with so many issues, including economic that it must be stifling.


Couldn't the headline be "another disappointing politician?"

Why must the Obama's race be the subject matter?

Alfred Brock

He is not a disappointing 'black' politician - he is, in my opinion, just another devious person who has worked his way up through the political process (which is a mess) and is now playing at pretence at a role that should be fulfilled with life, verve and dedication to country. It's not about color. He would be a failure as President if he were white, brown, yellow, red, cherry, violet or maroon. Get away from the race thing and see the death he has caused in the world and the disturbance he has caused in this nation.


Agree with Scott and Jezzoid. The president is supposed to be president for all the people, all races, religions, colors....although that hasn't been the case with some past presidents, names withheld. But Obama walks a tightrope and I don't know how he does it. He's damned if he does, damned if he doesn't, and the media pundits apply a different standard to him than they did to those before him. I think he's handling it as well as anyone, and surprised he's not a raving drunk.

Joseph L Cooke

You ain't see nothing yet. Wait until Allen West hits center stage.

Jack F.

I can understand Mr. West issue with the president, I thought like everyone else that the president would be a president for all the people treating everyone equally. But the truth of the matter is:

The president has been visible in support of Jews.

He is making inroads with Muslims.

He makes his rounds with middle class whites.

He shows up for Hispanics

He even went on the record in support of ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS.

But, when he speaks to blacks he chastises them. unemployment is at 9% but for blacks it is more like 14%, he is not addressing that. or any other problems that face black America.

I would be upset myself.... What does that say when the first black president of the United States of America runs up to bat for everyone but blacks in America.


Too many continue to bring race into the issues surrounding President Obama. It is not about what he looks like on the outside, it is about his policies and actions, and if one likes them or not. We all need reminders of great leaders like Martin Luther King who spoke of "content of character" or what's on one's inside, rather than what one looks like.

Socorro Varela

Obama in his support of abortion on demand is upholding the white man's Planned-child-killinghood genocidal plans to liquidate the black race from America. And the saddest part of this is that 99.9% of American blacks back Obama in this plan of self-destruction. Blacks are now down to a mere 13% of the U.S. population and yet they make up 37% of the 1,600,000 abortions each year in America. Do the math. It comes out to 592,000 black babies killed in their mother's womb each year. It is the womb of their mothers that is the most dangerous place to be for today's blacks and NOT the Streets of any Ghetto. The KKK and Margaret Sanger could never have dreamed such success!!!

At this rate it won't be long before we will need to import blacks from Haiti, Jamaica or Africa to keep up appearances.
Blacks are addicted to Obama because they see him as half-black. They totally ignore that he is also half-KKK-white...

Mitchell Young

Why the false dichotomy between 'nationalism' and assimilation? Obama, and blacks (and Hispanics, and Asians and 'Native' Americans etc) in this country can have it both ways.

To take a less emotionally fraught example, look at the Scottish in the UK. They have all the rights of their English counterparts, they can freely travel to and be hired in government or the huge financial sector in London, and in fact are overrepresented in government, even given more parliamentary seats than their numbers would call for. Their representatives vote on strictly English matters. Yet at the same time the Scottish have their own Parliament, govern a lot of their own affairs, and don't generally don't have to worry about English people coming up to Edinburgh to take jobs in the Scottish financial sector.

Change some things in and the situation in the US is similar. Blacks (and Hispanics, and Asians) dont have their own governments, but they do have their own ethnically exclusive organizations which work explicitly for the interests of their ethnic groups, even in Congress their are ethnic caucuses for all of the above groups. So they get the best of both worlds -- the benefits of full participation in American life, and economy and politics, yet the ability to advocate policies on behalf of their exclusive group. For example, does anyone really believe that the 'National Council of La Raza' really takes a position on immigration (illegal or legal) that is best for the US as a whole?

Bill delaney

I have to take issue with some of the comments, but in doing so remind those who have forgotten, that Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King both fought for equal rights, and we who stood strong during that era respected both. There have always been those who allowed their ego to rise above basic issues, and took their eyes off the prize. I am a black republican, and remember that Dr. Arthur Allen Fletcher, a lifelong republican, and the most powerful black man the black community never knew, Parren Mitchell, Maryland Congressman, and Willie Brown of San Francisco were able to overcome their egos, and political affiliations to the benefit of their respective communities.

Racism is not as it was in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, is still prevalent, but I am more concerned with the extreme lack of insight on both sides of political aisles, and in all U.S. Communities.


Black leaders? Why don't we have white leaders? Asian leaders? It's the soft bigotry that blacks can't they think for themselves so they vote themselves off a cliff. If he were white and there were 16% unemployment and not moving,that'd be unacceptable. Yet, they would still vote for him go figure. 4 more yrs of high unemployment?


I would like to know why West always enters this kind of discussion. For someone who talks race on a continuum I find it hypocritical to utter one word against Obama. West tell us ALL what you have done for Blacks. NOTHING whatsoever. You have been more elitist than President Obama. You work at Princeton and have never left that lifestyle. So before you bash the president who worked among his people, just shut your big mouth, look in the mirror and maybe, just maybe you will see the hypocrite stareeing back at you. You have NO room to criticize the president. He has done more for Blacks than you want to admit. I hope that when you leave Princeton your cushy elite world does not crumble. You score no points here. I include you among the Smileys and Jacksons. Envious.

Glenn Koons

There are many black, brown, white pols who are corrupt. Who are socialists. Who are failures. This naif in the WH has black unemployment at 16%. Hispanics are at 12%. But this is also because of Bama's horrid stupid ideological stances that he learned at liberal institutions. Liberalism is killing blacks, et al , whites period. Liberalism is an equal opportunity killer for American pols. All of Bama's policies have been destructive for all Americans. There are black pols that are good examples of solid sanity: Alan West, Ken Blackwell, Tim Scott, even Herman Cain and Star Parker. So Obama is a failed liberal Dem pol. Too bad that he is black but he is there as a black who was elected frankly, by many, because he was black. Now voters can see that his policies do not and should not garner their votes in 2012 because he is a failed Prez , alien to our American heritage,history and values.

Jack F.

Rasil, when you say the president has done things for blacks, what are you talking about in particular? Most blacks that I know are no better off today then they were in 2008.

I do agree with you about the elite status of West.

I commented earlier because I have seen the president step up for everyone, except blacks. by name that is.

He has stressed how important gay and lesbian issues are, Latino issues get a nod, Jews have a friend, Arabs get support, Africans are acknowledged, he campaigns to white Americans, Asians are appealed to, Hawaiians are beloved, and so on. The only time I heard him speak to blacks, it was critical.

But I remember him saying during his campaign in 08, that he would be the president for all Americans. He seem to have left off AFRICAN AMERICANS, and that is what West and others take issue with. As an community organizer surely he is aware of the plight of black people in America, but now that he has a forum to express those issues. He discounts them.

If he came to bat for blacks like he does for illegal immigrants, it may not be sufficient, but atleast he includes them into the human equation deserving of if nothing else recognition.

Well, maybe that is because he already knows that no matter what happens, blacks are going to vote democratic no matter what. So taking them for granted is just a part of the political makeup. Everybody else does it.

I wonder now if black democrats still think the Bill Clinton was the first black president, he did more for blacks in America than president Obama cares to even mentions.



Startha Mewart

Wow. The L.A. Times is on a roll today with the racist articles. First you pick on black and latino men and education, and now this. Where were the headlines stating that Bush was another disappoint WHITE politician? Oh, that's right, you think whites and Asians can do no wrong! My bad...

Luther Wills

I agree with Myron Pitts President Obama is much better than any one GOP have to offer remeber this is the party that made this mess. I am a retired DOD Employee who haven't seen a Cost of Living Raise since President Obama was elected, I am Black and a Senior Citizen.I am very upset with recent attacked of Government Empolyees in the past months because I have many friends Black and Whites that chose to make service to their country a career. I t wouldn't be a problem if the employees that make more than most Governors didn't include a large number of Blacks. So you see although many things have changed we still have a long way to go I feel that President Obama is now and will be in the future the President to close that Gap between the Rich and the Poor that this country live by.


Think Obama sees himself as a politician of African heritage, not a "black politician". For intellectuals like Cornel West, ethnicity equals identity; all is viewed from the racial standpoint. Impossible for the president to function equitably and competently with such a narrow focus. And illogical to expect him to behave like a radical stereotype. His mother was white; he was raised by white grandparents. His father was African, not African-American. He'd be faking if he tried to act like a black-pride nationalist. "Assimilation" vs. "nationalism" is perpetuated by scholars, and the urban "hood" hip-hop culture. All black people do NOT fit into a mold (nor do black women conform to the Oprah mammy-as-sage-and-savior-pleasure-you stereotype, nor black men to the Justice Thomas "honorable" "self-made" no-mercy-to-the-lazy-oppressed type). For many, identity is separate from ethnicity, which is little more than color and features. If you're born in the U.S. you're a citizen--no need to assimilate. These intellectuals are responsible for some of the racism as they continually shout about color. Complete healing and unity (Dr. King's promised land) will happen when we look at one another as unique individuals, not labeled by race. As a multi-racial African-American, I'm not expressing a bigoted opinion. Believe Mr. Obama wants prosperity for ALL Americans--falling short of his goals, not out of neglecting any one group but from lack of experience and understanding of the economy. In addition, powerful conservative elements, i.e. lenders, corporations, state officials, are sabotaging the Administration so the voters will elect a Republican in 2012.


Get over it peeps and recognize...this half black president can't control or change a darn thing as long as there are white politicians (mainly from republican party) out there that continue to undermine everything that this half black president has tried to implement. Sadly, he will end his career as president as a disappointment.


Hawaii is occupied by an indiginous, racist people. Anyone who does not have native blood, is excluded and harrassed.



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