Black Americans have rallied around the president as perhaps no constituency has ever supported an American politician. As of this week, fully 88 percent of black voters approved of Barack Obama. Many predicted Obama’s election would herald a new era of African-American leadership. And yet, curiously, something different has happened. In the last year and a half, Obama has failed to support, run away from or pressured to resign at least ten significant African American political figures – a count does not include his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
The list of black leaders shunned or dismissed by the White House includes former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers, former Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod, U.S. Senate candidate Alvin Greene, former green energy czar Van Jones, Sen. Roland Burris, Gov. David Patterson and would-be Senate candidate Harold Ford, as well as members of Congress Charlie Rangel, Maxine Waters and Kendrick Meek.
Most recently, Obama has refused to come to the defense of Rangel and Waters – both currently under investigation for ethics violations — despite allegations from the Congressional Black Caucus that racism has fueled the charges against them.
During an appearance on New York radio last week, David Patterson, the state’s first black governor, expressed frustration at Obama’s criticism of fellow black people. The governor claimed to be “especially surprised when people from our own community do it because we’ve been the greatest victim of it for centuries.”
Patterson was referring to a Friday interview with CBS News in which Obama called the allegations against Rangel “very troubling” and expressed his desire for Rangel to end “his career with dignity … my hope is that that happens.” (An ally of Rangel’s told Politico that the longtime congressman “doesn’t give a damn about what the president thinks about this.”)
Then there is last month’s Shirley Sherrod incident. The Obama administration moved faster than greased lightning to force Sherrod from her post at the Department of Agriculture when video of seemingly racist comments surfaced. After she resigned under pressure, the administration saw the entire speech and publicly regretted its knee-jerk response. Nevertheless, the alacrity with which the administration pushed Sherrod out spoke volumes, at least to Sherrod and her supporters. Last week, at a National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) convention, Sherrod was critical of the president, saying, “President Obama needs a history lesson on race.”
Former social secretary Desiree Rogers quickly fell out of favor with the administration after several uninvited individuals were able to sneak into a state dinner. There have been divergent tales about the circumstances of her departure. Rogers has since expressed frustration, saying she believed the White House wanted to make an example out of her.
Last year, when Glenn Beck let loose on former green jobs czar Van Jones with his chalk board and charts, exposing the administration official as a 9/11 truther, a divisive racial figure, and Marxist activist, the administration barely missed a beat in giving him a fast boot before criticism could reach too high a fever pitch.
While Obama has actively revoked support for fellow black Democrats, he has refused to bolster others.
In the midst of a heated Florida Senate race, Kendrick Meek, a black Democrat, is struggling in the polls. Obama has not come to his support and, as Charlie Crist actively seeks Obama’s endorsement, it is becoming less likely that he will. Obama’s failure to assist Meek has rubbed black Florida Democrat Rep. Alcee Hastings the wrong way. On Sunday, the Palm Beach Post reported Hasting’s displeasure with the president. “I personally am a bit put out by the mixed signals that are coming from the White House,” Hastings said. “President Obama is going to be on the ballot in 2012 … If Kendrick Meek is a United States senator or if Obama has substantially made an effort to try to make that happen, then the enthusiasm and the excitement of the base of the Democratic party will be plussed up.”
Then there is the case of Alvin Greene, who is running for the U.S. Senate in South Carolina, though the Democratic Party has actively worked to subvert his candidacy. Its members believe him to be a poor representative of the party, some going so far as to claim that he is a Republican plant. Nevertheless, Obama has no plans to assist his fellow Democrat in his coming contest against Sen. Jim DeMint.
Greene told The Daily Caller he has been disappointed with Obama’s lack of support for black candidates. “We all supported him in his election and in turn he owes us,” Greene said. “We are the reason he is where he is at. He needs to support us.”
These instances are not anomalies. Last year, Obama forcefully discouraged Gov. Patterson from running for re-election in New York. In early 2010, he ordered Harold Ford, who was contemplating a primary challenge to New York Democrat Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, not to run. And when Senate Democrats worked to block then newly appointed Democratic Sen. Roland Burris from being seated, the president did not come to his defense — despite the fact that Burris was to take his vacated seat.
While the rejected political figures are numerous, Obama has also lit into elements of black culture, calling Kanye West a “jackass” and calling African Americans “a mongrel” people. Not to mention a black unemployment rate drastically higher than the national average.
Glenn Loury, the first tenured African-American professor at Harvard University, and current Brown University economics professor, told The DC that he expected all along that Obama’s presidency could be detrimental to black political power.
“I have maintained for some time that Obama’s ascendancy could well mean less political influence for African Americans. I don’t necessarily fault the president for this — it goes with the territory if he wants to remain viable politically,” he wrote in an e-mail to TheDC. “I was not at all surprised to hear the president’s comment on Rangel … It’s par for the course. Moreover, it’s as much a tactic of separating himself from congressional Democrats, who are not popular, as it is a racial move.”
Loury continued, saying that Obama has been less than a loyal to his African-American base.
“I said a long time ago (actually, at the time of his speech in Oslo accepting the Nobel Prize and extolling the virtues of American militarism) that black people would be a lot better off if the president simply left us out of it. He’s as much a ‘white’ American as he is a ‘black’ American. He’s got to do what he’s got to do as a politician, but there’s no necessity that he do it while proclaiming himself to be a ‘black’ politician (as he has done).”
South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn elaborated on Obama’s racial insensitivity to Maureen Dowd last month, in an article in which she declared the Obama administration to be “too white.” “‘The president’s getting hurt real bad,’ Clyburn told me. ‘He needs some black people around him.’ He said Obama’s inner circle keeps ‘screwing up’ on race: ‘Some people over there are not sensitive at all about race. They really feel that the extent to which he allows himself to talk about race would tend to pigeonhole him or cost him support, when a lot of people saw his election as a way to get the issue behind us. I don’t think people elected him to disengage on race. Just the opposite.’”
A recent Gallup poll reported that “black” approval of President Barack Obama has fallen slightly from 90% to an average of 88% for the month of July. Democrats have traditionally garnered the vast majority of black support, and as the first half black president, it is reasonable to assume the black population will remain committed to Obama. However, perhaps the large number of Africa American rejects left in the president’s wake is beginning to make a mark.