President Barack Obama admonished the Congressional Black Caucus – and black America— mostly friendly, supportive constituencies — to shut up and get in step with his efforts to get Congress to pass the American Jobs Act.
“I expect all of you to march with me and press on. Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes,” said the recognized master of rhetorical shrewdness. “Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling. Stop crying. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do, CBC.”
Those commands from the leader of the free world didn’t sit well with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a CBC member who recently accused the president of ignoring the concerns of his core constituency. Waters suggested that the president wouldn’t tell Hispanic, gay and lesbian or Jewish groups to stop complaining.
“So I don’t know who he was talking to — certainly not the Congressional Black Caucus,” she said on CBS’ “The Early Show.”
I’m not a fan of Congresswoman Waters. But she’s not altogether wrong on this point. There’s already too much silence among members of the “black community.” Browbeating them into keeping quiet about the president’s lack of performance in office will not inspire hope or change.
Waters feels the president gives blacks lip service and arm-length affection. Her reference is the unemployment rate for blacks that is close to 17 percent — the highest it’s been in almost 30 years and almost twice as high as the national average.
How we got in this situation is ripe for discussion. How we get out of it has to be part of the president’s talking points and long-term plan.
In fairness, his critics must take into consideration that the president is walking a political tightrope. He must be concerned that his support among blacks dropped in September to 58 percent, down from 83 percent less than six months ago, according to recent polls. If rank and file criticism revs up, black voters, who overwhelmingly cast ballots for him in 2007, may not be inspired to turn out in large numbers for the 2012 election. And unless black voters buy into Obama’s jobs message, the Democratic Party faithful will be hard pressed to overcome that incredibly frustrating phenomenon of leading blacks to the Kool-Aid fountain, but not being able to make them drink.
Blacks, of course, aren’t the only one suffering or complaining. Nationwide, 14 million people are in unemployment lines and more than 25 million unable to find full-time work. Thus, the president has decided to campaign on broad themes out of fear of further alienating the substantial bloc of independents who also feel disaffected and who, more than blacks, will actually determine his victory or defeat.
The president’s conflict notwithstanding, he doesn’t deserve a free pass from condemnation. However, a sense of racial solidarity prevents most blacks from being overly critical of Obama. In practice is a code of racial loyalty that says “we should not wash the family’s dirty laundry in public;” not unlike a political “don’t snitch” taboo.
Other than a few discordant shouts from sideline detractors, like Waters, hardly a word of outrage about his shortcomings emanates from his loyal black constituency. The fear is that vilification might undermine the nation’s first black president.
Instead of frank discussions about economic policy and job creation strategies, the debate in the “hood” turns almost exclusively on “corporate greed” and the obligations of the federal government to take from the rich and give to the less fortunate. The subject of racial accountability is so sensitive and raw that whites are hesitant to openly challenge the direction the black president is taking the country.
Why do blacks hold true to the “code of silence” about their elected officials, even at the risk of remaining politically isolated? Perhaps it is what GOP presidential contender Herman Cain has suggested: we’ve been “brainwashed.”