By George E. Curry
The midterm elections are over, the final numbers are in and they don’t look pretty if you’re a progressive. So, I am going to propose something our national African American leaders should have suggested a long time ago: It’s time for us to switch. No, not to the Republican Party. That would be tantamount to drinking Jim Jones Kool-Aid (Young people, Google “Guyana Massacre”). It’s time to switch our emphasis from politics to economics.
I remember Al Sharpton, speaking at the 2004 Democratic convention, saying Blacks had decided to ride the (Democratic) donkey as far as it would take us. Well, Al, that donkey has taken us as far as we can go in politics, even into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Now, it’s time to park that old, tired pack animal on a farm and try a new mode of transportation.
Even when we have given it our best, politics have never delivered the expected results. I am old enough to remember how exuberant we were with the election of the first wave of Black big city mayors: Carl Stokes in Cleveland, Richard Hatcher in Gary, Ind., Ken Gibson in Newark and later, Tom Bradley in Los Angeles, Andrew Young in Atlanta and David Dinkins in New York. We saw Doug Wilder elected governor of Virginia, the cradle of the Confederacy. The outgoing governor of Massachusetts is another African American, Deval Patrick. In January, we will have not one, but two Blacks in the U.S. Senate (Cory Booker and Tim Scott), the largest African American contingent ever in the upper chamber.
And the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), which bills itself as the conscience of Congress, has behaved as though it was unconscious the last six years, too afraid to evencritique President Obama for fear of facing a backlash back in their home districts. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, stated: “Well, I’m supposed to say he [Obama] doesn’t get a pass, but I’m not going to say that. Look, as the chair of the Black Caucus I’ve got to tell you, we are always hesitant to criticize the president. With 14 percent [black] unemployment, if we had a white president we’d be marching around the White House.”
The undisputable truth is that Obama needed pressure from Blacks and progressives to make him a better president. When he offered his version of Ronald Reagan’s trickle down economic theory – if you take care of America as a whole, it will trickle down to what Jesse Jackson calls boats stuck at the bottom. How has that worked out for Black America?
And instead of being grateful for the silence of the lambs, Obama has an inexplicable need to criticize his supporters even more than his opponents. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) can shout “you lie” during a State of the Union speech and ice cool Obama could essentially ignore the public slight. But appearing at a 2011 CBC dinner, the president urged his audience to “Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do.”
Even before his party’s butt kicking last week, President Obama was doing what he always does – blame his most ardent supporters. On April 10, less than seven months before the midterm elections, the Washington Post gave this account:
“President Obama said at a fundraiser Wednesday night that Democrats suffer in midterm elections in large part because black and Latino voters – among other groups – don’t turn out to vote.
“’Our voters are younger, more unmarried women, more African-American and Latino voters,’ Obama said at an event in Houston. ‘They get excited about general elections; they don’t get as excited about midterm elections.’
“Obama added: ‘…we have this congenital disease, which is in midterm elections we don’t vote at the same rates.’”
Obama is correct in saying African American and Latino voters don’t turn out for midterm elections at the rate they do for general elections. But that’s true of all voters, not just people of color. Yet, Obama chose to place the blame on the shoulders of people most loyal to him and his party.
While there have been some meager improvements since the economic meltdown Obama inherited, Blacks still face staggering unemployment and severe income and wealth inequality.
As the National Urban League stated in its 2012 State of Black America report, “… almost all the economic gains that blacks have made in the last 30 years have been lost in the Great Recession that started in December 2007 and in the anemic recovery that has followed since June, 2009.”
Blacks are on the verge of spending $1.3 trillion a year, according to a Nielsen’s study. It’s time to shift our attention to economic development and empowerment. I am not saying we should abandon politics – we shouldn’t – but it should no longer be our primary focus. Let’s get off of that donkey.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.