Rethinking Barack Obama in Chi-Town

A black conservative moves to the president's hometown, meets with the folks who helped put Barack Obama in office and starts to get why there's all this love for the man who won't get his vote in 2012.

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Bronzeville Historical Society members cheer in Chicago as Obama
is declared president. (Jean-Marc Giboux/Getty Images)

It's true: Black people are protective of President Barack Obama because he is the first African American to serve as the commander in chief of the United States. It's not that hard to figure out why that would be the case.

Still, I didn't truly understand the depths of this loyalty until I recently moved to Chicago and the same South Side streets that the president used to walk. Now that I have, I tell you, I get it.

Although I was always very aware and critical of people attacking an influential black man's actual manhood and character over policy differences, I admit: The more I fall in love with the people who make up one of the richest parts of black America (in terms of culture, cultural awareness and civic pride), the more I find myself cognizant of the line between appropriate criticism and inappropriate potshots at the guy who used to be a community organizer around these parts.

I can separate the two men named Barack H. Obama -- the one who once filled in as a guest radio host on WVON, the black talk radio station from where I write this piece today, and the one who is now leader of this nation. Most people here in Chicago -- and perhaps many black folks around the nation -- cannot.

And for the president's foes, perhaps, it behooves them to grasp this recognition in time for the political game in 2011.

If nothing else has come out of the Tea Party movement of the last two years, it is that the nation -- even moderates -- will be open to accepting new political solutions (even from the right), but it may continue to reject those solutions in dealings with the president, based on the tone of the criticism he receives. With the Tea Party appeased by (and pleased with) the results of the midterm elections, the president and Republicans were able to come to the table together without the nasty tone of criticism hurled at the president from the right. It is not surprising that, in return, the president was able to sign into law several pieces of legislation that would not have been overwhelmingly supported otherwise in either the House or the Senate.

As we found out in 2008 and continue to see within American politics, emotional investment -- whether it is from the right and Tea Party supporters or within the black community and its (mostly) unwavering support of President Obama -- means something.

A healthy respect for the people who helped mold a man gives a perspective on how to deal with that man because, in many ways, one is dealing with those people in an indirect way every time that man is approached. I can see why. There is a love for the people that I have always had, but that love is growing exponentially as I shake more hands, hug more grandmothers and talk with more community members in the Obama stomping grounds.

There is another level of understanding of their issues -- ones that I have lived with as a young man myself -- that comes with these interactions, and thus, there are lessons that even the most prestigious of those in Washington could heed as 2011 approaches. You can take a person out of his stomping grounds, but you can never take the stomping grounds out of the person, especially when there has been an exchange and investment of love between the two. As long as this stays in place for these great people here (particularly on the South Side) and the president, those opposing his 2011 legislative desires must make sure that they address their political strategy with tact if they hope to be successful.

Anything less will probably aid the Obama effort for 2012. An aware and tactful approach to negotiation with, and opposition to, the Obama administration in 2011 will continue the political right's momentum in gaining more seats in the Senate and House and, if the economy remains slow to respond, will result in a Republican victory in 2012.

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