Every year I attend the Congressional Black Caucus Convention in Washington, D.C. and use the conversations, the networking and the panels as a way to gauge just what the political elites in the Black community are feeling about President Obama (or Bush before him) as well as the mood of the activist class heading into the new election year. Every year it’s a different story, in ’08 people were just thrilled, and Obama gave a rousing pre-election speech. In ’09 the passion was there as the crowd was furious about the rise of the Tea Party movement and anti-Obama town hall rants. In 2010 the behavior was somewhat muted which reflected the poor turnout in the mid-term election. This year however there seems to be a real tension brewing and it’s not clear if it will all be good by the next election.
I have long pointed out that the White House strategy to get the African-American vote out for the 2012 election is really just the “Obama Re-seduction Tour.” Obama swept the Black community off it’s feet in 2008 but after that wonderful night in November of 2008 it seems like he stopped calling. Oh everyone waited by the phone for him to pick up again but suddenly he was too busy in Washington to kick it anymore. Tea-Party had him down but he promised that as soon as things calmed down a bit we’d get some quality time again. Of course like all wayward significant others that day never came, and even though we had his back at all times when we were broke, losing jobs and facing major racial crises like Shirley Sherrod he didn’t come to our aid. Now since his job is on the line Obama is suddenly blowing up the Black community’s phone again, begging for another chance.
To be totally fair, most of the African-American community never left Obama. Simply listening to the conversations through the halls of the Congressional Black Conference was a quick reminder that the vast majority of African-Americans still support president Obama even if they don’t necessarily approve of how he’s gone about doing some aspects of his job. However there are some who seem a bit less charmed by his new “Take me Back” rap and there is no better representative of this attitude than Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California.
Not to diminish her criticisms but no matter how strong President Obama’s re-seduction tour has been going you can hear the “When a Woman’s Fed Up” in the background every time Water’s speaks. She essentially tore into the president during the CBC jobs tour over the summer claiming that he was falling down on the job of addressing the Black jobs crisis and she was equally unmoved by Obama’s words during the Congressional Black Caucus dinner last week. Perhaps the President went a little too far when he told the audience to ‘Stop complaining” and “Get to work” in fighting for his re-election, because while the majority of the audience understood what he meant and were inspired by his words Waters was clearly not drinking the Kool-Aid. Waters found the president’s comments to be ‘curious’ and went further to say that he would never take such a condescending and frustrated tone with the Hispanic or Jewish communities both of which are constituents that have been vocally critical of his policy failures this year as well. Maxine Waters does not only speak for herself but many others in the African-American community who feel that while Obama will call on the Black community for votes he won’t take us out in public when it comes to his policy initiatives.
While that vast majority of Blacks will vote for Obama next year there is a small cabal of leadership that essentially become his “frenemies” in political discourse. They are his friends when it comes to passing necessary policy in Washington but increasingly sound like his enemies in public speeches, interviews and town halls. President Obama has more than enough time to fix these frayed allegiances if he makes marginal improvements in the economy and manages to stand up for himself against the Republicans. But his challenge isn’t getting Black voters, he will always have that, it’s making sure that we are enthusiastic enough to turnout in places like North Carolina and Virginia. If Maxine Water’s recent comments are any indicator it’s going to take a lot more than a phone call and flowers to re-seduce some in the Black community back into the vote booth next year.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)