What Ails the Black Body Politic

Article excerpt

THE DIRECTION THE OBAMA ADministration takes in the next two years depends in part on popular pressure. But ironically, those who suffer the most are the least politically agitated. This disjuncture is evident in the uncritical support President Barack Obama receives from the black body politic.

Polls show that 90 percent of African Americans approve of the president's job performance, compared to 40 percent of white Democrats. This raises the question: Can Black America, experiencing newfound pride in the first black president, challenge a Democratic Party in the grip of neoliberal orthodoxy and help reinvigorate progressive politics?

Measured against indices of economic well-being, black support for the president is incongruous. Black unemployment is a staggering 16.1 percent (and that figure does not include the tens of millions of people who have given up looking for work). Home foreclosures will consume between $71 and $122 billion of black community assets. Homelessness has increased dramatically, with disproportionate impact on black families.

To be sure, there is sympathy for the president across the board, with 71 percent of the electorate still blaming George W. Bush for the economic crisis. In addition, President Obama has endured scurrilous torment from the right. And strategic drift among progressive groups has hobbled healthcare reform, immigrant rights, and the antiwar and climate justice movements. The end result: a watered-down healthcare reform bill, defeat of the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform, unfettered war-making, and no climate change legislation.

Black voices of dissent feel stifled. CNN commentator Roland Martin describes fissures in the "complex relationship" between black leadership and President Obama. He recalls how black leaders were angered by Obama's failure to seriously consider black women for the Supreme Court. Martin says black leaders avoid direct criticism out of fear that they will be "cut off from the administration" or face community backlash,

hi a powerful example ofthat hard-ball approach to criticism, seven prominent civil rights groups once opposed President Obama's "Race to the Top," citing the education plan's overreliance on "competitive funding and hand-picking winners. …