The soft bigotry of low expectations

When Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, he won a larger share of the vote of both white people and black people than did John Kerry or Al Gore.  But now his support among white voters has fallen off sharply.

A political scientist named Melissa Harris-Perry wrote in The Nation that Obama’s reflects an insidious form of racism.  President Obama’s achievements are equal to those of President Bill Clinton, she said, but while Clinton’s support increased when he ran for a second term, white voters are deserting Obama.

But President Obama’s support is declining across the board.  It is not that he has failed to appeal to this sub-group or that sub-group.   It is that the economy is getting worse, and he does not offer any hope for a turnaround.

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I agree that it is fair to compare Barack Obama with Bill Clinton.  Both are highly able politicians, with a good understanding of policy, who did little or nothing to challenge the status quo.  Clinton presided over a thriving economy.  This may have been due as much to good luck as good management, but it is a law of politics that those in office take credit for the rain and get blamed for the drought.  Unfortunately all the long-range problems which Clinton did not address and which George W. Bush made worse have come to a head now.

President Obama took office facing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression (which may become the Second Great Depression), a jobs crisis, a mortgage foreclosure crisis, a financial crisis, a health insurance crisis, two foreign quagmire wars and an out-of-control national security establishment, plus a political opposition determined to keep the government in a perpetual state of artificial crisis.

I can’t blame him for not single-handedly solving all these problems at once.  My problem with Obama is that he does not show a way forward on any of them.   Melissa Harris-Perry does not claim that she shows a way forward.  Her claim is that Obama is no worse than his immediate predecessors and current rivals.

Unfortunately that’s true.  But this is like saying you should keep the doctor who can’t cure your life-threatening illness because he or she is no worse than average.  The point is not whether your doctor’s excuses for failure are valid.  The point is to stay alive.

The lesson of the Obama Presidency is that just choosing from the menu of candidates the system serves up is not enough to save our country and its liberties.

Click on Black President, Double Standards: Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama for Melissa Harris-Perry’s article in The Nation.

Click on Does Obama Face a Racial Double Standard? for Brendan Nyhan’s response on the Huffington Post web site.

Click on Why white liberals are (really) ditching Obama for David Sirota’s response on the Salon web site.

Click on Obama Has an Everyone Problem for analysis of Obama’s declining support by Jon Walker on Firedoglake.

Click on Recession Recovery: Unemployment – Obama, Bush, Clinton, Reagan for a comparison of current unemployment rates with unemployment during previous recessions.

Click on How to Build a People’s Movement for some positive suggestions for change by Seth Borgos in Yes! magazine.

Click on Want Jobs? Rebuild the Dream: An Interview With Van Jones for more about grassroots organizing by Sarah Van Gelder in Yes! magazine.

I added some material after I posted this on Sept. 30.  I changed the headline because I thought it might be unfair, then, on second thought, changed it back.  It is not expecting too much to expect President Obama to make a good-faith effort to do what he promised to do.


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