Losing hope in Obama

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, July 27, 2011, at 4:19 pm

The Barack Obama fan club is dwindling. For example, Princeton University religion professor Cornel West and journalist Tavis Smiley are launching a nationwide "Poverty Tour" that will offer a serious critique of the Obama administration's policies toward the poor. In a devastating article, Bard College foreign affairs and humanities professor Walter Russell Mead concludes that when it comes to employment, "the Obama administration been a total bust for blacks." If West, Smiley, and Mead are representative of many frustrated African-Americans and Democrats, President Obama's reelection may be in jeopardy.

Mead highlights issues in urban America that would justify President Obama receiving an "F" grade for his administration's inability to effectively address the following:

"[T]he devastating impact of what for most blacks is a still-deepening recession; the unfolding effects of the fiscal crisis meshed with the decline of the blue social model; competition for jobs, resources, and power between African-Americans and mostly Spanish-speaking immigrants; the increased fragmentation and disintegration of black political leadership; and the contrast between the high hopes of 2008 and the grim realities that have come clear since."

The lack of progress on these issues may explain, in part, why West, Smiley, and other progressives are now some of Obama's most vocal critics. Is the jig up? For those blacks who were expecting their situations to improve with the swearing in of the nation's first African-American president, many are now standing around today sucking wind like a Hoover vacuum cleaner.

Today, blacks have an unemployment rate just above 16 percent, compared to 8.7 percent for whites. Mead reports that the states with the lowest black unemployment rates are generally the more conservative, low-tax states, while the ones with the worst black jobless rates are among the bluest states in the nation: Wisconsin (25 percent), Michigan (23.9 percent), Minnesota (22 percent), Maine (21.4 percent), and Washington (21.4 percent).

One the reasons blacks are affected more significantly by the current recession is because of the high percentage of African-Americans working in government and the public sector. To date, approximately 20 percent of working blacks are employed by government compared to 15 percent for whites and 11 percent for Hispanics. The public sector, according to Mead, is the single largest employer of black men in America and the second largest employer of black women. During a recession, when government cuts spending and cuts jobs, those measures tend to affect African-Americans far more than any other racial group.

More and more blacks are now questioning whether Obama can deliver on his vision of expanding government to bring about economic liberation for those who are struggling. While many progressives and liberals seem content to blame Republicans in Congress for blacks being worse off under President Obama's tenure, leading African-American and Democratic thinkers-like West, Smiley, and Mead-are pointing their fingers solely at the administration of the man who promised "change." Maybe many progressives (liberals) and conservatives have more in common looking ahead to the 2012 presidential race than they realized-namely, regime change.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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