Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
A recent CNN poll seems to confirm what a majority of African-Americans and a significant percent of whites seem to think or at least say. And that’s that President Obama will have to be better because he’s black. Translated this means that at Obama’s first real or perceived screw up there will be howls that that’s what you get when you plop a black into any position that requires a brain and skill. The undercurrent that courses through this warped race tinged view of why blacks are expected to fail is that they are plopped in an important spot because of affirmative action or unexpunged white guilt, and they’re grossly unqualified for it.
These screwy reasons ignore the savvy, ability to think, preparation, or education that get African-Americans top spots in corporations, universities, and politics. Obama certainly had the right stuff to bag the biggest political prize of all, the presidency. The great what if, though, is would former President W. Bush have bagged the grand prize if he had been black? The CNN poll doesn’t answer that but some have set a bar virtually nonexistent for a mediocre white politician ridiculously high for Obama.
Obama is well aware that the old racial double standard rule might apply to him too and that he will be under torrid public glare; more torrid that any presidential candidate in campaign history. And there will be packs of voters who hope, even pray that he flops. Race is the only reason many of them wish that. Surveys during the campaign found that even some of the most passionate Obama backers did racial gymnastics and separated their man from other blacks. They raved about his political genius, hailed him as the one to lead the country out of the Bush morass. Yet many still said that blacks were more crime prone and less industrious than whites. A month after Obama’s triumph not much had changed. A long term study of racial attitudes by the National Academy of Sciences found that a significant percent of Americans still saw color as the major factor in determining who committed crime and who was most likely to be poor.
Obama acknowledged the racial wariness of some near the beginning of the campaign when he said that there were some who would not vote for him because he’s African-American. He said the same thing again albeit more subtly in his triumphant speech on Election Night in Chicago’s Grant Park when he said that he wanted to reach out to those who did not vote for him(accept him).
During the campaign the political stars aligned for Obama as they did for no other Democratic presidential candidate in a decade and a half. There was massive public fatigue from Bush policies, rage at Republican corruption and ineptitude, an SNL laughingstock vice presidential candidate, and a catastrophic financial meltdown and crumbled economy. There was also Obama’s backward stretch to keep race out of the campaign. The only time he dealt with the issue was to damp down public unease over the inflammatory racial tirades of his former pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Despite all the towering political pluses he had, a majority of whites and that included a narrow percentage of young whites did not vote for him
But the presidential campaign is now a fast fading memory. The big concern for most Americans no matter whether they backed Obama or not is can his policies work? This doesn’t mean that racial stereotypes, open and closeted, have magically vanished. He’s in the bare embryonic stage of his presidency, and few are willing to say anything about his style or program that can be remotely seen as having a hidden racial animus. It’s simply politically incorrect and crass to hint or infer that Obama is not up to the weighty task of governance. Even GOP hard bitten conservative William Bennett publicly but lightly rapped talk show kingpin Rush Limbaugh on the knuckles for allegedly wishing that he wants Obama to fail.
The true test, though, will come when Obama makes a real or perceived foreign policy or domestic issue stumble or takes a stance on an issue that angers his opponents. Obama will be lambasted for that. All presidents are. Criticism is a part of the job; it comes with the political turf. Presidents know that, expect that, and should even welcome positive criticism. The difference is that America has never had a black president who has had to bear the brunt of criticism for missteps or policy blunders. Obama is the first. There are two kinds of criticism Obama will get. One is leveled based solely on whether his policies and decision making help or harm public interests. The other comes with a sneaky racial motive. Obama sadly will get both.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009). http://www.learnhowobamawon.blogspot.com