Several weeks after the presidential election, many Americans are still attempting to assess the political ramifications of the GOP loss to Barack Obama. Aside from the many commentaries that resemble political and cultural obituaries of the Republican or conservative “brand” and its influence, there have been several thought-provoking perspectives on what the GOP needs to do in order to effectively persuade more of the electorate- specifically minorities- into voting for them and the ideas they represent.
I agree with that premise. The GOP needs to adapt, tailor, and clarify their message- a message that stands in distinction to, and not in conflation with, the Democrat message- to a diversified America. I think a carefully clarified and articulated conservative message would hold tremendous cultural and economic benefits to minorities.
Furthermore, Republicans and conservatives need to employ qualified messengers, regardless of their ethnic composition, to deliver this clarified message to the general public, irrespective of demographics. At the same time, the GOP is currently in possession of these qualified messengers- especially ones that represent minority demographics they covet- but oddly, they’re still seen and treated as role players and not central figures in a game that the GOP is currently losing.
With a prudent and eloquent message that details clear social, cultural, and economic value-based positions, I have no doubt that the GOP will be able to attract more single women, Latinos, Asians, young people, gays, union-represented employees, and possibly even some college professors. But one demographic I am certain that the GOP will not persuade anytime soon is blacks; and all attempts to do so after this election may be pointless. Blacks have solidified themselves as the lost demographic.
That blacks would vote for President Obama in 2008 isn’t earth-shaking. America was in the process of electing its first black president. The historicity, importance, and symbolism of that election were things that most blacks wanted to be a part of. This was evidenced by ninety-six percent of blacks casting their votes in Obama’s favor. Though many Americans disagreed with Obama’s stated intention of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” the significance of his election on the psyche of black America couldn’t be minimized or ignored.
That blacks would vote for Obama in such overwhelming numbers four years later considering the poor economic and socially-divisive record- specifically the constant level of high unemployment and its impact on black America- is nothing short of disheartening. The statistical reality of black life under the first black president has been so bad that I was cautiously optimistic that blacks would take the opportunity to reassess their support for Obama and his policies. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. I misjudged how central race continues to be within the black mindset.
The unemployment rate of black Americans the month prior to the election was 14.3%, which is almost a full percentage point increase from September’s rate of 13.4%. Worse still, under Obama, the unemployment rate has reached 16.7% twice (March 2010 and August 2011); and during 2011, it averaged almost 16%.
The black poverty rate is 25.7 percent, meaning that a quarter of blacks currently reside under the federal poverty rate ($23k for a family of four). The percentage of black children living in poverty is close to thirty-nine percent. From 2009-2012, the black median household income has fallen 11 percent from $36,567 to $32,498 as compared to the 5.2 percent decline suffered by white households. According to the Census Bureau, in 2010, the median household wealth for whites was $110,729 versus $4,995 for blacks. Yet despite these numbers, 93 percent of blacks voted against their own self-interest and present reality to re-elect a black president for another four years.
These numbers represent the wealth and income disparities between blacks and whites and say nothing regarding the education gap that continues to widen at the expense of the future of black children. Several times during the past four years, the president told black audiences that education equality is the “civil rights issue of our time” and called for more “investment” in education. Yet he continued his support for teachers’ unions (which actively contribute to education disparity) while taking stands against school choice- an issue that most blacks support.
These statistics indicate that blacks as a group- and in comparison to their white counterparts- are demonstrably worse under the first black president than at any time in the previous thirty years.
What has been the black response to President Obama’s economic stewardship? The members of the Congressional Black Caucus, specifically Emmanuel Cleaver, the out-going chairman of the caucus, said: “With [such high] unemployment, if we had a white president we’d be marching around the White House.” He also said: “The president knows we are going to act in deference to him in a way we wouldn’t to someone white.” So the President’s blackness trumps black unemployment.
Similarly, radio host Tom Joyner told his listeners last year “Let’s not even deal with facts right now. Let’s deal with our blackness and pride — and loyalty… I’m not afraid or ashamed to say that as black people, we should do it because he’s a black man.” Samuel Jackson said: “I voted for Barack because he was black.” In other words, ignore economic reality and support Obama because of racial solidarity. Sadly, these aren’t isolated sentiments; they’re pervasive among blacks, obviously evidenced in the high numbers of blacks who voted to re-elect Obama.
What was Obama’s response to the criticism regarding the sad state of black reality? The president’s response, in light of his actions, shows exactly what low regard he holds for his most loyal demographic. In an interview for Black Enterprise magazine in August of this year, he said: “I’m not the president of black America. I’m the president of the United States of America…”
His answer was a not-so-slight-of hand to deflect constructive criticism regarding the effects of his economic policies on black Americans. It was also a passive and dishonest way of saying that he’s unable to pass legislation or enact policies for a specific group of people. President Obama’s empty platitude may have carried some weight if it weren’t for the fact that he’s done exactly what he insinuated he couldn’t do- pass legislation for a specific group of people.
The president passed the Lily Ledbetter Act and consistently made birth control an issue to pander to women. He instructed the Justice Department not to defend the constitutionality of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act); ended the use of DADT (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell), the official policy of United States regarding homosexual servicemen and women in the military; and also endorsed same-sex marriage to pander to homosexuals. He directed the Department of Homeland Security to give immunity from deportation to the children of illegal immigrants, provided they were brought to America prior to the age of 16 but who are younger than 30, overriding Congressional input to pander to Latinos; and his bailout of GM and major portions of his “stimulus bill” was meant to repay the unions who supported his campaign and presidency through word and financial deed. Yet the president couldn’t do anything to help alleviate the suffering of blacks?
Being the first black president- and a Democrat at that, most Americans would have applauded his attempts to address some of the pathologies that afflict black America through targeted and directed legislation; but he didn’t. How did black folk respond as Obama continued to ignore them? Blacks still supported Obama regardless. After everything we’ve seen and heard during the past four years, it’s apparent that racial solidarity is still more important to blacks than black employment, income, wealth, and improved education. And it’s a damn shame.
Considering all of this, it is certainly no wonder why Republicans and conservatives show trepidation in engaging a demographic this embarrassingly loyal to a man and party that take their needs for granted, while effectively disregarding their concerns. If blacks continue, as expected, to demonstrate this level of electoral faithfulness in spite of being ignored, what motivation does Barack Obama or the Democrat party have to sincerely address their concerns as a reward or gratitude for their loyalty?
It’s a painful observation. But until black Americans move beyond the racial emotionalism that subjugates them to liberal policies and racial solidarity and remove the mental constraints that preclude them from openly acknowledging the adverse effects that race-first policies have had on their communities, blacks will get exactly what they vote for.
And blacks, the lost demographic, will have no one to blame but themselves.
Photo Credit: Geoff Livingston (Creative Commons)