I knew this would happen. Near the end of Obama’s first year in office, I anticipated that the President’s polling numbers would eventually sink and his reelection campaign would face strong headwinds. By that point – on the eve of his reelection campaign – someone would blame the defection of white voters for Obama’s failure to win a second term. In December of 2009, I wrote a piece discussing how the “race card” would not serve as a “free pass” for the Disappointer-In-Chief. I referenced critiques, written by several African-American commentators, who were more-than-a-little upset with Obama’s job performance during that first year.
As expected, once Obama’s approval rating dropped to 40%, it didn’t take too long for someone to step forward with the “blame whitey” meme. Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor of political science at Tulane University, recently wrote an article for The Nation, wherein she blamed racism for Obama’s declining popularity:
The 2012 election may be a test of another form of electoral racism: the tendency of white liberals to hold African-American leaders to a higher standard than their white counterparts. If old-fashioned electoral racism is the absolute unwillingness to vote for a black candidate, then liberal electoral racism is the willingness to abandon a black candidate when he is just as competent as his white predecessors.
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President Obama has experienced a swift and steep decline in support among white Americans – from 61 percent in 2009 to 33 percent now. I believe much of that decline can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation. His record is, at the very least, comparable to that of President Clinton, who was enthusiastically re-elected. The 2012 election is a test of whether Obama will be held to standards never before imposed on an incumbent. If he is, it may be possible to read that result as the triumph of a more subtle form of racism.
Despite the fact that Obama has yet to lose the 2012 election, Professor Harris-Perry has already seen fit to assemble a “circular firing squad” to assign blame for the Obama campaign’s inevitable failure. Her theory about racism drew quick fire from more-intelligent commentators, who exposed the absurdity of her claim. Corey Robin, who earned a PhD in Political Science from Yale, did a thorough job of debunking Professor Harris-Perry’s claim. Among the points made by Dr. Robin, was this:
In fact, according to this September Washington Post story, “Five months ago, 83 percent of African Americans held ‘strongly favorable’ views of Obama, but in a new Washington Post-ABC news poll that number has dropped to 58 percent.” That’s why, according to this piece, Obama has made special outreach efforts to blacks: he’s worried about their dwindling support. But as the Post also goes onto explain, “That drop is similar to slipping support for Obama among all groups.”
The most important point made by Corey Robin was his focus on the overarching problem of Obama’s politics:
But when we assess Obama, like any other president, we’re not thinking about his skills and talents; we’re thinking about what we call his “politics” and, even more important, how his politics reflect larger forces and structures in American society: corporate power, neoliberal ideology, declining organizational capacity on the left, and so on. We see him, often, as a symptom of those forces, not a challenge to them. Not, again, because of any lack of intelligence or ability on his part, but because, in part, he is a product of the structure (with all its failings) we would like to see dismantled.
Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism ripped Professor Harris-Perry’s article to shreds. Ms. Smith concluded her essay by placing blame back on the man himself:
It took most people far too long to get that Obama was a phony because the presumption that a black man would be sympathetic to the fate of the downtrodden is a deeply embedded but never voiced prejudice (and this bias is exploited successfully by the right in depicting Obama as a socialist).
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These traditional iconic symbols of liberalism – secular urban elitism, blackness, technocratic skill, micro-issue identity based political organizing groups – have been fully subverted in the service of banking interests. Obama is the ultimate, but not the only, piece of evidence that these symbols are now used simply to con the Democratic base out of their support and money. The task of moving forward will require rebuilding the symbolic vocabulary of the defenders of the middle class.
Melissa Harris-Perry is forgetting that Barack Obama is only half black. In fact, many of us are blaming Obama’s white half for breaking so many campaign promises and for his selling out to the plutocracy.