(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—One of the most consistent themes of the 2010 mid-term election season has been the “enthusiasm gap” between Republican and Democratic voters. In layman’s terms the “enthusiasm gap” means that voters who plan on voting Republican are a lot more excited about their candidates than voters who plan on voting Democratic. And many political analysts are laying the root of this “enthusiasm gap” at President Barack Obama’s door. Honestly, blaming Obama is the easy answer; the real explanation for the “gap” can be understood and explained in terms of the 2008 presidential election and the hip-hop generation.
Last week I did my typical pilgrimage to the Congressional Black Caucus Conference in Washington, D.C., the annual meeting of the African-American members of Congress and a whole slew of other professional and political luminaries from across the country. There are panels covering just about every subject of importance to the Black community and America in general, mixed with shows, parties and celebrations. The CBC is like a mixture of a teach-in, and a big HBCU homecoming. One of the most compelling panels that I attended was on the impact of hip-hop music on American politics. Usually such discussions are rather boring. They degenerate into self-congratulatory speeches about how this particular rapper or that rapper isn’t receiving enough credit for their work. Or worse, the very men and women who appreciate the empty-headed consumerist lifestyle promoted by many entertainers try to justify their complicity while at the same time keeping on good terms with the rappers. But this panel was different, with folks like Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip-Hop Caucus, producer and North Carolina Central Professor 9th Wonder, and the ubiquitous Jeff Johnson, a surprising amount of insight was shared.
When you hear political commentators talking about the “enthusiasm gap” they’re usually talking about White voters, single White women, educated White men, etc. But you seldom hear about the lack of passion on the part of the “hip-hop” generation or minority voters and where their enthusiasm has gone since 2008. However, like many other issues, if you can explain the lack of passion on the part of minority population in America you can explain the majority. So why is the passion waning for Obama in general and Democrats this fall? Jeff Johnson put it succinctly: In 2008 Barack Obama was running a campaign, not a movement. And to the extent that people were expecting the passion, organization and activism of 2008 to continue forever, they were mistaking a movement with a political campaign.
Many Democratic voters, so desperate for mass activism after years of living under Bush were desperate for a “movement,” some type of change that would take this nation off the wrong track that it had been on for eight years. So when Obama started talking about “change” and speaking to crowds, many people mistakenly believed that it was a movement, but it wasn’t, it was a campaign. Campaigns end when the goal is accomplished or the person gets into office and its time for the banners to come down the phone lists get locked away and everyone needs to get back to work. Movements involve creating organizations to sustain passion and commitment past the initial event. Martin Luther King created SNCC, because he knew that for his work to continue past the honeymoon phase there would have to be some type of structure. The Tea Party is a movement. They realized that disorganized government anger is worthless, but if you funnel it into rallies and organizations every couple of months you can sustain it. The reason there is an enthusiasm gap is because Democrats, independents and liberal Republicans were so desperate for a new movement leader they confused that with electing a president. Obama was running a campaign, the political equivalent of a good first date, not a movement which is more of a marriage between the people and an idea.
At the Congressional Black Caucus Conference there didn’t seem to be a lack of enthusiasm for the president, or voting Democratic in general, but that audience is already sold on this administration. If the Democrats have any hope of maintaining the House, they have to explain to their voters that the honeymoon is over and Barack Obama, the rock star and icon, has to give way to Obama the hard-working president. If Democrats can’t figure out the difference soon, hard- core Black politicos might be the only ones left yelling, “Yes we can” in 2012.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)