I was in Washington this past weekend attending a board of trustees meeting at Howard University. I did not attend any of the events during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual awards dinner. After I heard about President Barack Obama’s speech, I was glad I didn’t attend.
I did, though, have occasion to talk with people from around the country who were there, including several senior members of the CBC. News organizations, such as United Press International, have written headlines proclaiming, “Obama Rallies Congressional Black Caucus” or the one written on CBS News’s website, “Obama at Black Caucus dinner: ‘I need your help.’” I’m not so sure those in attendance took it as a rallying cry or a rationale for solidarity. If either of those was the purpose, the president was ill-advised on how to achieve his goals.
When I was growing up, I would often hear older men say, when they thought they had been offended by the words of another person, “I almost told you to —— —- —— —” — leaving out the least polite portions of that sentence. They would use that tactic to avoid being considered vulgar and not showing proper respect.
Prior to the weekend, I exchanged points of view with a number of African-American supporters about Obama’s reelection chances. Collectively, they expressed the hope that he would use his speech at the CBC awards banquet to fight for those things for which he campaigned; many thought he had been too compromising with Republicans and had little, if anything, to show for it. They felt the administration has not produced the positive results many expected, especially for African-Americans. They wanted him to bear witness to a more productive future by just, as the song goes, giving black voters “some sort of sign.”
Few can deny the group hardest hit by the nation’s continuing economic downturn — with unemployment, increase in poverty level numbers and overall lost opportunities — has been the group of people represented in Congress by CBC members.
Because of the Bush tax-cut extensions, the bank bailouts, stimulus spending and the debt ceiling compromises, many average Americans — including African-Americans — have wondered aloud, “When does our time come?”
I remain a supporter of the president’s reelection. I have personally communicated that to him. I know that he believes that. I hope that the nation’s current economic ills can be alleviated and ultimately cured, utilizing the vision and capacity for leadership that he so brilliantly displayed during his 2008 presidential campaign.
Nowhere was that excitement felt more deeply and intensely than in the hearts and souls of America’s most historically neglected people. Those citizens have shown through perseverance and rugged determination their toughness and an uncanny ability to survive — whatever was strewn in their paths. They gave their 2008 votes to Obama with joy and a renewed sense of optimism.
Many, however, still have the perennial question resonating in their minds — one they expected to abandon to history’s scrap heap — about when the powerful will turn their attention to the marginalized: “How long must we wait?” They didn’t expect to continue that line of inquiry with this president.
One would expect Obama to know theirs is not just a plaintive cry or whimper but a seeking of redress. A redress made to each and all who have been there before him. That’s what they thought they would get from his election and administration. To the contrary, though, they look at a man they thought would lead then through the wilderness and must ask, “If not now, when?”
I believe in the president’s best intentions. I give him the benefit of any doubt. But when he spoke to the CBC — and by inference the people its members represent — and told them with an annoyed pitch to “Quit whining!” he thundered words the dispirited do not need to hear during this difficult hour of America’s history.
If this group of struggling citizens are not re-energized, given renewed hope, by witnessing positive and realistic achievements, then even the seemingly weak field of Republican challengers could produce a winner next November. Each poll portends what I hope will not become a stark “anybody but Obama” atmosphere when people step into the voting booth to cast presidential ballots.
There is also the possibility that some of that group of people I have described might not share my view of the president’s best intentions. They might very well think and say something like what I heard while growing up. I heard you, Mr. President, and if I did not have such great respect for you, I would have told you to “—— —- —— —.”
The piece originally appeared in Politico on September 28, 2011: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0911/64530_Page2.html