In 2008, President Obama was primed to unify the nation as both post-racial and post-partisan. In 2009, neither happened. In 2010, he must re-establish what brought him to office, starting with a unifying State of the Union Address.
As many of us know, President Obama is a cager that likes getting on the court when his time allows.
This common-man quality is one of many that made Americans comfortable with voting for a little-known candidate over a former first lady in the 2008 primary—and a veteran Senator in the general—and sending him on his way to the White House. However, many would now argue that it is the president’s caginess—notably, the self-interest of pushing through left-leaning agenda items over issues that most Americans agree upon—that has separated the lefty-shooting politician from the post games that we were promised in November 2008: a post-racial America where previous tensions based on race would be diminished; and a post-partisan America where the differences between the two major political parties would be neutralized by the unifying presence of Obama and this impact on how the nation addressed its collective crisis.
If Obama is going to be successful as a president (and help minimize the Congressional carnage that may come at the voting boxes in November), he will need to back the political ball down into the post yet again—or, more accurately, both posts.
This move must start with a determination that following the left too much has led to disaster. Now that the president is 0-for-3 in campaign for high-profile Democrats since last fall, it becomes important for the White House to see the writing on the wall: that allowing those on Capitol Hill such as Rep. Barney Frank, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to craft the collective message and the legislative endeavors during his first year in office has been an extension of trust that betrayed 2008 voters that were willing to give hope and change a chance. Without getting Republicans’ Congressional leaders on board with any of his moves, any failure on these initiatives (such as the stimulus spending to hold unemployment at 8 percent, a now-famous faux pas of the administration) quickly becomes an exclusive mark against Obama’s Washington as a contrast to the “change” that he mentioned once upon a time that seems eons ago.
The same is true for the post-racial aspect of Obama’s promise to the White House. Although many statistics may suggest that Obama’s election has indeed signified a post-racial America, many others do not, including stats that indicate that:
- African-American men with college degrees are twice as likely to be unemployed during this recession than other American men their age;
- African-American unemployment has hit 25% in some areas of the nation; and
- African-American children continue to languish academically at a rate woefully behind others American children nationally.
To the surprise and frustration of many African Americans and young people, the president’s reply has been slow, measured, and often insensitive, including his famous positions on the D.C. voucher program and cutting funding to historically black colleges and universities, all while using his first executive order to fund abortions with their tax dollars—all issues that impact the black community in tragic ways.
So, too, have the president’s responses to the calls of racism, particularly toward his drive for universal health care and continued amounts of spending in Washington. The post-racial president was noticeably silent during the accusations of racism made by Presidents Carter and Clinton during the uprising of the Tea Party movement and the health care town hall forums, this despite having a clear voice in the botched “beer summit” and the recent Harry Reid “negro dialect” controversies. Even as the NEWBO class (new black over-class) of African Americans—a group Obama hails from—continues to ride gloriously from his election, the rest of black America and others within the nation (including the youth across racial lines)—groups that Obama campaigned toward to pull out his 2008 victory—continue to struggle at a time when race is talked about more in 2010 than it was during any time of the previous Bush administration sans Hurricane Katrina.
Like President Clinton discovered during his first term, regardless of the wave that brought him into office, President Obama must acquiesce to the center-right nature of the nation more than he does the fringe and one-time voters (as well as special interests) that made a big difference in 2008 against a questionable GOP ticket at a time when the Republican brand was easy to bash and hard to vote for according to many Americans. He will also have to take a hard look and admit the obvious: that as the first African-American president, he will have to symbolize stances and speak to issues that other presidents before him never did—and do so with confidence, conviction and action. Shying away from this uncomfortable process to create unity on both fronts because of the convenience of a supermajority in Washington was a temptation that was too much for the president to resist, only for it to become a sweet poison for him just as too much candy can be for a diabetic.
Not only did President Obama sell America on his ability to turn around this economy and secure America’s military and political positioning around the world, but he also sold the nation on his ability to make the country better and more efficient by smoothing out the political and racial divides that haunt us. Much of where the president missed historic opportunities lays in his failure to meet these challenges. Starting with the State of the Union address this week, he must make the most of the speech to reposition himself as the symbol of “can-do,” “can-lead” government, not the “can-spend” and “can-divide” liberalism that his presidency has been labeled as to date.
In 2009, the president’s willingness to be “Mr. Big Shot” ended up with him shooting a lot of air balls as he forgot the post moves that made him president in the first place. For 2010 to be different, President Obama has to take a tough shot this week with his State of the Union Address—namely, taking a nation that is more divided and—dissatisfied now than it was at his inauguration and providing the roadmap to make it more viable, more harmonious, and more productive—and make it look like a layup.
Depending on how much he leans on his post moves subsequently, we will see if the president shoots up a brick or hits nothing but net.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the author of the book, “Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative,)” purchased online at www.tinyurl.com/lennysdiary and www.amazon.com. He has been featured on multiple outlets and shows including XM Radio’s “The New School,” Fox Charlotte’s “Fox News Rising,” CNN’s “Newsroom,” and Fox News’ “Glenn Beck.” Follow him at www.twitter.com/lennyhhr and on Facebook at www.tinyurl.com/lennyfacebook .