Obama: Another disappointing black politician? [Most Commented]
President 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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
*Spelling errors in the above comments were corrected.
Photo: Left to right: Cornel West and Melissa Harris-Perry. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times; Chaz Neill / PictureGroup / Associated Press