Tough Talk Tonic

Oct 1, 2011
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October 1, 2011

What was President Obama really saying to us at the annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation dinner last weekend? He offered a lot of his vintage hope and a little tough love, but most of the speech was the mix of inspiration and substance that Democrats relish. Nearing the end of his first term, the President even loosened up enough to give the “B” word, bringing the audience to its feet. But it was his tough-love lines that caught the media’s attention.

Actually, Democrats have needed some tough talk from somebody all year. African Americans spent the first two years of the Obama administration so infatuated with our own success in electing the first African American president and so in love with the President’s celebrity, that we gave little attention to what it would take to keep him there. Meanwhile, the Tea Party, which detested the idea of Obama as much as we loved it, lost no time in going for old-fashioned remedies--grassroots organizing and getting their people elected.

Democrats watched in horror as Republicans took the House by campaigning on a jobs agenda, and then with little more than half of one chamber of Congress, single-handedly changed the national conversation from jobs to deficit reduction. The new House Republican majority quickly extracted their pound of flesh, which turned out to be disproportionately black, according to the unemployment figures. Congressional Democrats fought back and so did the President. But who really had his back? The President heard endlessly from Tea Party Republicans during both the 2011 budget fight and the debt-ceiling rematch. Throughout these tortuous ordeals, he must have longed for the loving crowds that rallied in the tens of thousands each time he spoke before winning the election. What he got from Democrats in support of the Democratic agenda were mostly press releases.

Sure, I prefer combat, but it can be argued that had the President joined the fray, he could have lost the respect he still enjoys with the public by lowering himself to become the mere opposite of the Tea Party. Still, the President has now risked the support of those who loved him most. He came out fighting in September at the congressional joint session, and we fell in love again. At this point, of course, he had little choice. Do we? Is it too late for him? This much is certain: if it’s too late for him, it’s all over for us. While we are slinging arrows the President’s way, we should remember that such weapons tend to boomerang against those who haven’t come out fighting themselves.

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