At the end, President Obama campaigned almost exclusively to turn out black voters. Polling in mid-October showed Obama holding an 85 percent approval rating among blacks, compared to 34 percent with whites. He won 93 percent of the black vote in 2012, down from 95 percent in 2008; though clearly his popularity with this core group has suffered, African-Americans still support him by a wide margin.
His first campaign event of this election cycle was on October 19, just two weeks before Election Day. He stumped in Illinois, trying to rally black support for incumbent Governor Quinn, and in Maryland for Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, running to be the state’s first African-American governor. In both states he addressed largely black audiences, looking to boost participation by a group that historically is under-represented in midterm races.
Then there he was on Al Sharpton’s radio station, promising that he “will be responsible for making sure that our voters turn out.” Our voters? Then Obama was on Rickey Smiley’s radio hour, lamenting, "I'll bet there are whole bunch of folks listening to your show who may not even know that there's an election going on. I need everybody to go vote." The Crist campaign quietly ran a new radio spot yesterday in Florida targeting black voters, featuring the president, as did Kay Hagan in North Carolina.
What a sad comedown for our first African American president – a man who promised to bring the country together, and who was expected to be the first post-racial leader. As an editorial in the LA Times gushed in 2008, “Does his victory mean that America is now officially beyond racism?” It asked, “Can the good Revs. Jackson and Sharpton now safely retire to the seashore?”
More poignantly, the editorial asks, “Won't an Obama presidency at last lead us across a centuries-old gulf of alienation into the recognition that America really is our country? Might this milestone not infuse black America with a new American nationalism?” Remember those days?
Sadly, the divisions in the country appear as sharp as ever – or even sharper. Among blacks, according to a recent Rasmussen survey, 87 percent think that those who oppose President Obama do so because of racism. In contrast, more than two-thirds of whites and well over half of other minorities think that policy differences account for opposition to the president. Almost one third of the electorate considers racism Obama’s big stumbling block. Astonishingly, that’s up from 18 percent in 2011. Under President Obama, we have indeed been traveling in the wrong direction.
There’s no doubt that the black vote remains key for Democrats, especially as President Obama’s popularity has taken a bigger hit with other segments of the coalition that elected him in 2008 and 2012. Millennials and Hispanics still support the president, but with markedly less enthusiasm than in earlier elections. No group tilts so strongly for Democrats than blacks and no group was courted so heavily in recent weeks.
Pollster Cornell Belcher wrote in a confidential memo published by The New York Times, "African-American surge voters came out in force in 2008 and 2012, but they are not well positioned to do so again in 2014." He added ominously, "In fact, over half aren't even sure when the midterm elections are taking place." Belcher prophesied that weak turnout among blacks would result in “crushing Democratic losses across the country.”
Some black voices have pointed out the uncomfortable truth that African-Americans have not prospered under President Obama. Alveda King, niece of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and thorn in the side of Al Sharpton, points out on her website Restore the Dream 2014 that unemployment among blacks is 11.5 percent compared to 5.9 percent for the country overall. She adds that the poverty rate among blacks has increased from 12 percent in 2008 to 16.1 percent under President Obama.
King also cites the lamentable fact that only 52 percent of black males graduate high school and that blacks earn on average $21,000 less than the national average. King is a pro-life activist who says that if the African American community was better educated on the issues, they might not be such reliable Democrat voters.
True or not, it is discouraging to see that blacks are driven more by racial issues than by policy considerations. Nearly four in five Americans think that politicians play the “race card” simply to get votes. Only 9 percent think that politicians raise racial issues to address “real problems” according to Rasmussen. While only 41 percent of all voters say that race is at least somewhat important to their vote, nearly 80 percent of blacks say it is important. That surely does not sound like progress.
It’s not only President Obama who has been playing the “race card.” Michelle Nunn, who ran for the Senate in Georgia, has refused to condemn ads run on her behalf by the Democratic operatives in her state. One evokes the emotional recent events in Ferguson, showing two children holding “Don’t Shoot” signs, which say, “If you want to prevent another Ferguson in their future…vote. It’s up to you to make change happen.”
Mary Landrieu, Senator from Louisiana, in a tight race to keep her seat, also pitched race, saying to NBC’s Chuck Todd, “To be very, very honest with you, the South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans.” She went on, “It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.”
Imagine. President Obama has not failed because he saddled a fragile economy with a huge, complicated healthcare bill that stalled hiring, added to the country’s uncertainty, and remains unpopular to this day. He hasn’t failed because he was woefully naïve about foreign policy or because he surrounded himself with ideologically sympathetic apparatchiks with little capability, and has managed the government poorly. He has failed because the country that elected him twice is racist.
The saddest pitch comes from a flier distributed in Georgia that pleads with black voters: “It’s up to us to vote to protect President Obama and his legacy as the first African-American president…. His name isn’t on the ballot. But his presidency is on the line.”
Yes, it is. And race has nothing to do with it.
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