So, some black folks are bashing Princeton Professor Cornell West for his sharply phrased critiques of President Barack Obama’s failure to specifically address crisis- proportion problems in a long-suffering segment of American society: the black community.
Black supporters of the first African-American president echo the rationale advanced by Obama himself that he is the president of all Americans so addressing issues specific to African-American would be inappropriate.
However, that view side-steps the critical issue of the very American right to criticize a U.S. President.
Compounding the First Amendment criticism issue is the reality that Obama has addressed issues important to specific groups, including gays and women. He has even been addressing the issues of his political adversaries, the Republicans, like his embracing their demands for deficit reducing austerity by slashing services to the most needy.
“Are African Americans expected to shut up and suffer?” asked Dr. Eddie S. Glaude Jr., chair of Princeton University’s Center for African American Studies, in a commentary about the controversy over criticism of Obama by blacks. “That’s just not democratic.”
Black-owned businesses, historically marginalized in federal contracting, have received a paltry 3.5% of federal contracts funded through Obama’s stimulus between February 2009 and November 2010 compared to white-owned businesses receiving 81.3% of stimulus-funded contracts during that period, according to Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.
An American president has a duty to address obviously discriminatory contracting adversely impacting Americans regardless of their race. The failure of the Obama Administration to deal with such discrimination causes black critics like Cornell West to conclude that this president – like his white predecessors – treats blacks differently.
Black bashers of Dr. West, like civil rights leader Rev Al Sharpton, professor/media commentator Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry and syndicated radio personality Tom Joyner, are particularly incensed with barbs from West like his tagging Obama a “mascot” of Wall Street.
Setting aside the tone of West’s “mascot” tag, facts do document that Obama received huge financial contributions from mega-financial/corporate entities during his 2008 presidential campaign, with ten of Obama’s top twenty contributors coming from that sector, including Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs and corporate titan General Electric.
And facts also document that the Obama Administration bailed out Wall Street without extracting tough (and overdue) reforms in return. That lack of thorough reform was an unseemly break for Wall Street, particularly its financial fraudsters, whether or not it was pay-back for those campaign contributions.
Facts further document that the Obama Administration has been more aggressive in cracking down on ‘street crimes’ than on much more serious crimes committed by the corporate-financial elite.
During 2010, the second year of Obama’s presidency, federal prosecutors secured the convictions of 3,838 blacks for crack cocaine law violations, producing prison sentences averaging nearly 10 years.
However, that same year the feds continued wrist-slap enforcement on corporations facing criminal charges for far-reaching crimes including fraud and environmental pollution. None of the corporate culprits responsible for those crimes received prison terms, according to U.S. Sentencing Commission data.
Yes, corporate offenders in 2010 paid fines averaging $16.3-million, but some black drug law offenders last year received fines of over $1-million, plus long prison sentences.
Quibbling with the words Cornell West uses in his critiques does not erase the Obama Administration’s substantive failure to seriously tackle the onerous scourge of high unemployment, particularly among blacks.
Yes, mass unemployment during this recession ravages Americans of all races.
However, this dire malady is peculiarly pronounced in the black community.
While the national unemployment rate in June 2011 registered 8.6 percent among whites, the rate for blacks was nearly double at 16.2%, according to federal figures–figures that curiously under-count actual levels of unemployment.
Obama selected the CEO of GE to be his ‘Jobs Czar.” That’s the same GE that has cut jobs and closed factories in the US over recent year, off-shoring them.
And, this is the same GE that rakes in billions of dollars in profits, while avoiding all federal tax payments by adroitly exploiting tax code loopholes.
This while middle and low-income wage earners struggle with their tax burdens.
Given the soaring joblessness among Americans of all races, Obama’s Job’s Czar is not doing a bang-up job.
Obama’s jobs creation emphasis through public works infrastructure renovations using federal stimulus money largely bypasses blacks thanks to historic discrimination in the trade unions that perform such work.
“If a White House had been as dismissive of African-American’s interest as Obama has been, Blacks would have been ready to march on the White House,” wrote respected journalist George Curry, who recently moderated a discussion between Rev. Sharpton and Prof. West about their differences on Obama.
Many blacks are touchy about criticisms directed toward Obama, who still enjoys high popularity in black communities. Blacks feel – with some factual basis – that Obama receives unfair criticisms, particularly from right-wing conservatives.
For example Michelle Bachmann, the extremist right-wing congresswoman and GOP presidential aspirant, recently bashed Obama blaming him for the high levels of black unemployment when she and her Republican confederates on Capitol Hill have persistently opposed efforts by congressional progressives to pass legislation creating public service jobs that would significantly increase employment among all jobless Americans, including blacks.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, conservatives and some liberals banged Obama around for his association with his long-time Christian pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Those critics tarred Obama for Wright’s alleged ‘radical’ theology – a theology ironically based on social justice, care-for-the-poor principles advocated by Jesus.
Less than a year after mauling Obama as a misguided Christian, his conservative critics shamelessly shifted direction castigating Obama for allegedly being a closet Muslim. They absurdly claimed he covertly seeks to impose Islamic Sharia Law across America, despite the fact that such an act is legally and practically impossible to accomplish, even if desired by Obama — which it is not!
Often divorced from critiques of Obama is the fact that he faces an unprecedented dilemma beyond strident obstructionism from Republicans, who are willing the sacrifice the well-being of whites to undermine this Black President.
Obama is caught on the horns of America’s legacy of individual and institutional racism.
He will receive criticism from many whites if a programmatic initiative appears to them to specifically or disproportionately benefit blacks.
Some conservatives blasted Obama’s health care reforms, calling them reparations for blacks despite Obama’s publicly stated opposition to the concept of reparations for slavery (a stance that riles some blacks).
In fact, Obama’s health reforms sought to corral rapidly rising health costs that are killing the economy. He did not seek to covertly compensate blacks who are ‘sick’ of racism.
Consistently with Obama’s damned if he does/damned if he doesn’t dilemma, his attempts to minimize white criticism result in his angering many blacks, who understandably feel he is ignoring long festering issues like structural unemployment and mass incarceration.
Much of the mass incarceration across America among blacks arises from this nation’s Drug War which marked a dubious 40th Anniversary on June 17, 2011.
Federal studies repeatedly document that more whites use crack cocaine than blacks. Yet, blacks comprised 78.5% of those convicted in federal courts for crack offenses in 2010 compared to the 7.3% white rate, according to U.S. Sentencing Commission statistics.
Journalist George Curry rightly notes that many blacks “do not want to hear anything bad about Barack Obama even if it’s true.”
This deaf-to-Obama-realities stance taken by many blacks is not substantially different from whites who blindly idolize Ronald Reagan.
That late president dangerously ran-up the national debt during the 1980s and initiated the deregulation responsible for much of the fiscal problems facing the country today–problems Reagan idolizers blame on Obama.
The unquestioning support Obama enjoys among many blacks is curiously similar also to the stance adopted by many Jewish Americans who reflexively attack any criticism of Israel.
“Those public supporters of President Obama who defend him at all costs are clearly doing Black people a major disservice,” stated a commentary posted on Black Agenda Report, a website long critical of Obama.
“President Obama and his administration have taken the black vote for granted and feel no need to acknowledge or act on any issues on our behalf.”
Actually, this contentious clash within the black community over the propriety of criticizing Obama is healthy because it is part of an often overlooked historical tradition of vigorous debate in the black community.
During the volatile 1960s Black Power militants verbally fought with the moderate Civil Rights leadership over the best course for conquering race-based inequities in America. Militants belittled Dr. Martin Luther King, calling him an “Uncle Tom” for his non-violent protests, while supporters of King lambasted militants, calling them dangerously misguided for their aggressive stances.
Irrespective of opinions on Obama, pro or con, the fact remains that no U.S. president or any public official wears a cloak-of-immunity from criticism.