by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
Few predict that Barack Obama will generate the Black turnout that propelled him to victory in 2008. “A small but growing number” of Black former Obama enthusiasts “have grown weary of the charade and know they have been played for fools.” Race pride motivated them the first time around, but that is harder to muster for “a man who never saw them as anything more than saps who would vote for him no matter what he said or did.”
Freedom Rider: The Obama Thrill is Gone
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
“In November 2012 it is almost certain that black turnout will be lower.”
Black Americans’ devotion to Barack Obama during his 2008 run for the presidency was unparalleled in American political history. From the moment he won the Iowa caucus and proved that white people would vote for him, any and all questions or concerns raised about Obama were promptly forgotten. The opportunity to see a black president created a level of enthusiasm previously unseen, and unfortunately a blind devotion too. A group of reliably progressive people changed their political religion and coalesced nearly unanimously around the only kind of person the system will allow to compete, a corporatist and imperialist with no inclination to put black people anywhere on the agenda of the day.
On Election Day in November 2008, the black turnout for Obama was so huge that he won states like Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia, states which had not voted for Democratic presidential candidates in decades. That level of turnout meant that thousands of black voters who had either never voted before or hadn’t voted in many years came out to the polls with the goal of putting Obama in office.
The downside of that phenomenon is that those people who were previously disengaged from the system still have no reason to be engaged four years later. Their motive was race pride, albeit for a man who has only a passing, academic connection to their life experiences and who never saw them as anything more than saps who would vote for him no matter what he said or did.
“The novelty of seeing the Obamas in places previously reserved for white people has worn off.”
Now that Obama has been president for nearly four years, the bloom is off the rose, as well as the inclination to excuse his dismissal of the black community. These days any defense of the Obama administration consists of little more than protecting him from the likes of Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh, and not because he has done anything for the millions of people who were so devoted to him.
The fantasies of black life created by centuries of oppression were made real when Barack Obama become president. Many powerful longings were met at the sight of Obama on Air Force One wearing his POTUS jacket or knowing that the black first lady’s fashion sense was admired by white people. The Obamas have presided over state dinners and met the queen of England and the Pope in Rome. These images meant a great deal to people whose very right to exist and live in this country has been precarious at the very least.
But now the thrill has diminished considerably. The novelty of seeing the Obamas in places previously reserved for white people has worn off, and while the numbers of black people willing to publicly criticize Obama may still be small, the level of disappointment has grown. In November 2012 it is almost certain that black turnout will be lower. The depth of Obama love was bereft of political ideology to begin with, and the flimsy rationales are visibly threadbare.
The self-delusion has come to a head. In 2008 Obama critics were advised to “hold his feet to the fire” after he got into office. The more honest Obama lovers admitted that they wanted to see a black man in office, and had no intention of holding his feet to fire or anything else. Now a small but growing number have grown weary of the charade and know they have been played for fools. While the Obama win at any cost mantra was the directive, a desire remains for black people to have the same political expectations that other groups do.
“While the numbers of black people willing to publicly criticize Obama may still be small, the level of disappointment has grown.”
The LGBT community has seen an end to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and an expression of support for marriage equality. The Jewish community has seen no change in the pro-Israeli policies advocated by every president since the state of Israel was founded. When black people dare to ask for any acknowledgement of their political aspirations the president tells them, publicly and pointedly, to stop complaining.
If seeing a black man sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office was the goal, it has been reached. The apathetic can now go happily back to being apathetic. If Barack Obama wins a second term it won’t be because of high turnout in Gary, Cleveland, Richmond, or Charlotte. It will be because the Republicans have shot themselves in both feet with white women voters who will not put up with openly sexist appeals for votes from right wingers.
It is possible for Barack Obama to win a second term, but even in victory his mandate will be diminished. The people who were inspired to go to the polls 2008 will not show up in the same numbers. The discontent will be largely unspoken, but the results won’t lie. Even Barack Obama can’t fool all the people all the time.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.