Challenges a second time around

It should be safe to assume that the candidates jostling for the GOP presidential nomination, as well as the party’s brain trust, are sufficiently savvy politically to not put too much stock in reports that there’s a growing softness in African American support for President Obama. Because the nation’s unemployment woes have Blacks disproportionately taking it on the chin, compared to others, and because the likes of Prof. Cornel West, Tavis Smiley, Rep. Maxine Waters and others have been openly critical of the president’s record in prioritizing the needs of the underclass, is no reason to expect a notable defection of persons of color from Obama’s support base. Best opponents could hope for is that a diminution of the energy and enthusiasm of ‘08 manifests itself in a falloff from that first-time-around turnout. And, more than likely we’ll see a bit of the latter.

Generally, Blacks are much more sympathetic to this president about the economy’s stagnant state than others would tend to be, for obvious reasons. So that even while, in some instances being literally pulverized by economic circumstances that they along with everyone else didn’t see coming, Blacks remain largely loyal to Obama, as a CBS News/New York Times survey recently found. That survey reported that less than 10 percent of Blacks thought the president failed to meet expectations and three out of 10 thought he exceeded expectations. A Pew Research Center poll had Obama besting Mitt Romney among Blacks by a 95 percent to three percent margin.

The crusade that was embarked on by West and Smiley was said to be all in the interest of sensitizing folks to Obama’s conspicuous exclusion of matters relating to the poor in the president’s agenda to date. West had also voiced some disappointment over what he felt was somewhat of a “diss” from Obama after sterling efforts West made toward candidate Obama’s campaign in ’08. Even given that sense of letdown, one hardly expects West, Smiley or any others who have thought to publicly hold the president to account, to support his opponent when the 2012 race moves into high gear. Taking the bold step of rocking the Black-solidarity boat in criticizing the president was more than likely intended as a “keep the guy honest” gambit.

Any falloff in Black support for Obama when he next faces the polls will probably come from those who naively expected a heavier lean toward Black activism from this presidency. Never mind advisers, Obama is himself intelligent enough to know that going that route, even if he were that way inclined, would be absolutely untenable. The Obama narrative, especially after his losing bid in 2000 to wrest an overwhelmingly Black Congressional District in Chicago from Rep. Bobby Rush, was about projecting himself beyond the traditional base appeal of African American politicians. Hence, by 2004, a comfort zone that would suggest a run to represent Illinois in the Senate, and four years later, riding this to national office. There was little chance of Obama altering the script once on the job.

Still, while allowing for his not proceeding in “Black activist” fashion, some have charged, not without justification, that Obama seems to have bent over too far backward to avoid being perceived as an African American president. Appearances do matter. It’s difficult to rationalize George W. Bush having a cabinet with more Blacks than a cabinet assembled by this president, where Attorney General Eric Holder stands as a solitary presence. Somewhere in the pipeline, one suspects, there must be a voice or voices insisting to Obama that such a level of over-compensating had better be reversed some if he triumphs in 2012.

Despite such misgivings, hard-core Obama support isn’t about to wind up elsewhere. The other side, after all, makes it relatively easy for Obama’s base to consolidate itself when crunch time comes. The kind of bilious attacks we can confidently anticipate from the GOP/Tea Party camp should serve to get the president’s supporters primed for strapping on their boots and marching, as he exhorted his audience recently at a Congressional Black Caucus event. Republicans are resolute, as we’ve oftentimes said here, in their determination to show no favor to issues of critical concern to the core African American population, to other people of color and to society’s overall less privileged. Social program spending is literally dead on arrival among those who are the Republican/Tea Party tandem’s face today. More unsettling is that being derisively labeled the party of “No” and public disgust with Congress registering at historically embarrassing levels seem, if anything, to titillate this group. Behavior in that quarter that holds to form should provide plenty of motivation for the Obama troops to get marching.

All of which is not to suggest that Obama is sitting pretty in his second-term bid. It’s difficult to imagine the economy getting worse and his not paying a heavy price. Better economic news, particularly in the unemployment picture, surely will help. It won’t hurt, either, that on foreign policy he’ll be able to run rings around any of his prospective challengers. And although some in his African American base might not be as emotionally engaged as in round one, the president’s opposition shouldn’t figure on any major home-front cleavage.