For all their faults, there is one thing both ultra-conservatives and super-progressive black radicals can both agree on: Barack Obama made America worse.
Right-wingers will attest that Obama did not do as much for Black America as their great purveyor of equality and tolerance, Donald Trump. Aside from the fact that Obama didn’t put on a bulletproof vest and personally stop bullets in San Francisco, they claim that Obama stoked racism by talking about it all the time.
Similarly, whenever the subject of the 44th President arises, Tavis Smiley, polysyllabic know-it-alls who present contrarianism as intelligence, and people who think Hidden Colors should be the 67th book of the Bible will eagerly explain how Barack Obama didn’t do anything for black people.
On Sunday’s airing of Meet the Press, the mascot for moderate mediocrity masking as objectivity, Chuck Todd, re-introduced this topic to 2020 presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke.
“You’re not the first candidate to say, ‘I’m going to bring this country together,’” Todd said to O’Rourke. “The most recent Democratic president a lot of people put their hope in and thought he was the answer that was going to do that. Why do you think that didn’t happen in Obama’s eight years?”
According to these people, Barack “Thanos” Obama was apparently supposed to make America’s ideological divide disintegrate as if he were the hero in some Marvel movie after gathering all the White Supremacy stones. To explain his failures, they usually cite some of the following facts:
- 25% of black households now live below the poverty line as compared to eight percent for white households.
- The black unemployment gap was twice the white unemployment rate under Obama.
- Black wealth actually declined under Obama.
- Trump has the black unemployment rate at an all-time low.
- What about the violence in Chicago?
Notwithstanding that the question in and of itself displays an ignorance of how the presidency, history and the federal government works, let’s examine why Obama didn’t bring the country together to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” while destroying 400 years of racism in his two terms.
Obama wasn’t that guy.
We like to think of Obama as the Al Green-singing president who hung out with Jayonce and could stay in rhythm while doing the kick-turn part of the electric slide. The right thinks of him as a radical social Muslim who played the race card at every instance. But in truth, Obama was a moderate who made himself palatable enough to white folks to become president. He wasn’t more Martin than Malcolm. He wasn’t even Martin. He was more like ... well... a white man.
That’s why people voted for him. White people could see themselves in him and whenever the notion of him being too black raised itself, Obama assuaged white people’s hand-wringing and pearl-clutching by assuring them he was “one of the good ones.” When Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s “liberation gospel” became an issue, Obama distanced himself from his former pastor by calling the Reverend’s comments “not only wrong but divisive.” Throughout his presidency, Obama never gave his supporters or his detractors any indication that he was anything other than a centrist politician.
He tucked his shirt into his jogging pants when he played basketball, for Chrissake!
‘That Guy’ could never become president.
If Obama was radical enough to change America in any meaningful way for Black America, he would have never been a two-term president. Donald Trump can outwardly tout his policies which benefit his white base because there are so many white people. But if Barack Obama would have given white America the heebie-jeebies by bringing up reparations or anything black, he would have been kicked to the curb faster than the “Rent is Too Damn High” guy.
Barack Obama couldn’t bring America to a better understanding of race because America—not even the liberals who refer to themselves as allies—doesn’t want to talk about “that race shit.” Current presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders coalesced his contingent of safety pin-wearers by painting the country’s racial disparities as a product of economic inequality.
Also, the rent is too damn high.
News flash: America is kinda racist.
There is a popular saying: “When White America catches a cold, Black America gets the flu.”
During the great recession, as the entire country experienced an economic downturn, black people were hit the hardest. Holding Obama responsible for these inequities is not only incorrect, but it gives a pass to the historical anti-black policies that created these disparities in the first place.
Remember all of those previously mentioned statistics? Well here is the truth:
- Even at its historic low, the black unemployment rate is still twice the white unemployment rate. It has always been this way.
- It is true that black wealth decreased under Obama. So did white wealth. So did Hispanic wealth. That’s how recessions work.
- Under Obama, urban crime and violent crime was at an all-time low. They still are.
- The wage gap between black and white men has been the same since 1980. Obama didn’t create it nor can he eliminate it.
He actually did some things for Black America.
Aside from universal health care and digging the American economy out of the grave that George W. Bush made, Obama actually quietly implemented structural changes that benefitted black people:
- Obama’s Justice Department sued Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and some of the country’s largest financial institutions for discrimination against black and minority customers.
- The DOJ’s civil rights division sent “Dear Colleague” letters threatening to sue schools accused of punishing black students more harshly and denying minority children access to programs.
- Under Obama, the Education and Justice Departments issued guidance to colleges prompting them to increase diversity in their admissions process.
- Obama investigated more police departments for misconduct and civil rights violations and issued more federal consent decrees on police departments than any other president.
- He cut or eliminated prison sentences for 1,385 federal prisoners, the majority of whom were nonviolent drug offenders.
- He discouraged the use of mandatory minimums.
- He investigated lenders who wouldn’t lend to minority-owned businesses.
It’s hard to dismantle white supremacy.
Two years into his presidency, the Republicans broadcast a “block Obama at all costs” strategy, according to Politico, who wrote:
Here’s John Boehner, the likely speaker if Republicans take the House, offering his plans for Obama’s agenda: “We’re going to do everything — and I mean everything we can do — to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell summed up his plan to National Journal: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
The GOP strategy was to fool the white working class into thinking that universal health care was “socialism,” Muslims were taking over the country and that the negro president was giving away their hard-earned dollars to black and brown people. Plus, eliminating racism is hard. How else would white, second-rate C-students with no original views or insight get jobs like hosting Meet the Press ... Or the presidency of the United States?
Lest we forget, the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, 95 percent of governorships, the majority of state legislatures and almost every seat of power in America are all occupied by Caucasian buttocks. The real reason Barack Obama didn’t eliminate white supremacy in America is simple:
White Supremacy is the most American thing of all.