“Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
-Ronald Reagan, 1980
While the mainstream media, Black and White, was transfixed with the Left’s obsession with trying to make duly elected president Donald J. Trump “illegitimate” by attempting to argue that he is essentially a tax cheat, former president Barack Obama and his wife, former first lady Michelle Obama, have inked an unprecedented $65M book deal for their memoirs. This deal eclipses those secured by previous presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who received $15M and $10M respectively for their remembrances of their times as leaders of the free world.
Without question, the former president and first lady have every right to earn a living in the free market – as a staunch believer in the latter, I would never begrudge either of them of their good fortune. And yet, it bears noting that their good fortune would not be possible were it not for Obama’s winning the highest office of the land – twice – and with nearly 100% of Black American voting support.
This is key, because unlike Hip Hop impresarios Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, or Birdman, or sports greats like Stephen Curry, LeBron James or Russell Wilson, all of whom are private citizens who offer goods, products or services that others are willing to pay large sums of monies for, Obama spent a life in public service. His charge was to look out for the interests of his constituents, not merely offer goods or services to the free market. On this measure, Obama’s legacy will be seen as somewhat lackluster, given all the hoopla over the “hope and change” his first campaign engendered.
However, for Black Americans in general and Black men in particular, Obama’s tenure in office has proven to be in a word, a failure.
Aside from Black woman voter and Obama supporter Ms. Velma Hart’s famous statement and question to the former president, about her being “exhausted of defending him” and whether her difficult times, after a lifetime of hard work, thrift and providence, were her “new reality”, we have more empirical evidence bearing out Ms. Hart’s anecdotal experience. Two powerful articles have emerged over the past few years in particular that undeniably bears out the fact that Black Americans overall have significantly lost ground during Obama’s tenure.
The first comes from longtime Black libertarian/conservative pundit Larry Elder. In a column he wrote for the Jewish World Review dated Jul 23, 2015, Elder notes that on every economic measure – median household income, poverty rates, family net worth, unemployment and home ownership – Blacks have fallen behind during the Obama years. Lest anyone doubt Elder’s veracity on this score, please note that he cites among others, the Financial Times and CNNMoney – no bastions of anti-Obama sentiment, for sure.
For his part, Robert Cherry writes in his Sep 2, 2016 column for the Real Clear Policy website, that, and I quote, “the jobless rate for young Black men is a national disgrace” – cting that between 2010 and 2014, the city of Milwaukee’s Black unemployment rate was 54 percent. Moreover, for the same period, which again, was the height of the Obama presidency, Cherry observes that in America’s biggest and Blackest cities like Chicago (Obama’s hometown!), Detriot, Cleveland, Baltimore (scene of the infamous Freddie Gray riots) and my hometown of Philly, the jobless rate was a whopping 45 percent.
Again, last time I checked, no one was accusing Real Clear Policy of being an anti-Obama cabal of mud raking hacks.
In the face of these irrefutable facts, many critics of this column (and the podcast I did earlier this week on the same topic) will rightly argue that Obama was hamstrung by recalcitrant, implacable foes in the form of the GOP in the House and Senate; that they swore to do everything possible to undermine the first Black POTUS; and that, after all, Obama wasn’t just the president of Black America; he was the president of “all” America.
These are legitimate retorts. However, what the critics fail to realize, is that while Obama couldn’t unilaterally pass laws or merely serve one segment of the American population, he nevertheless had access to what has become known as the “bully pulpit.” As president, Obama could have spoken out early and often on the urgent need to see to it that Black American men were a part of the economic life of this nation. After all, Black men turned out to vote in record numbers to vote for him – twice. This leads me to the next point critics will attempt to argue – that Black people, in this case Black men, should not expect a “handout” from Obama. As if suddenly, these folks have turned into conservatives overnight or something.
As noted above, Black American men are voters just like everyone else; as such, they have every right to expect a return on their electoral investment. Black American men care just as much and if the numbers cited earlier are anything to go by, much moreso, about the state of the economy than anyone else; yet, eight years after Obama was first elected POTUS, they have nothing to show for it. Worse, whatever gains many Black men have made prior to Obama’s arrival, have been diminished or lost outright.
While Obama waffled on his DOA “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative under the withering assault of Black feminists and hemmed and hawed anytime he was called upon to openly advocate on the part of Black men, he nevertheless didn’t hesitate to spend significant portions of his time during his second inaugural address discussing the importance and urgency of the cause for gay marriage equality; nor did Obama hesitate to wag his finger at Black men from a literal pulpit while campaigning for the highest office in the land in a Black church on Father’s Day. Nor can we forget his “tough love” lecture to Morehouse grads during a commencement address. When it suited him to do so, Obama has certainly used his position to speak to Black men.
It’s a damn shame and, to quote Mr. Cherry earlier, “a national disgrace”, that the first Black president not only presided over such a state of deplorable affairs for Black men, but that he failed to do anything about it.
So, while no doubt it is a good thing that he and his wife will be set for life based on this book deal alone, so many Black Americans – Black men especially – will come away markedly worse off from the Obama era, than they were prior to it.