If Obama has lost Maxine Waters, he's lost Middle America.
By JAMES TARANTO
BEST OF THE WEB TODAY/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE
18 AUGUST 11
(If President Obama can go on vacation, why can't we? Back Monday, Aug. 29.)
If it's racist to criticize President Obama, then Rep. Maxine Waters is a racist. The Los Angeles-area lawmaker, best known for egging on the 1992 riots, harshly criticized the president Tuesday at a Congressional Black Caucus powwow in Detroit. We get the story from Byron York of the Washington Examiner:
"We don't put pressure on the president," Waters told the audience at Wayne County Community College. "Let me tell you why. We don't put pressure on the president because ya'll love the president. You love the president. You're very proud to have a black man--first time in the history of the United States of America. If we go after the president too hard, you're going after us."
The problem, Waters said, is that Obama is not paying enough attention to the problems of some black Americans. The unemployment rate for African-Americans nationally is a little over 16 percent, and almost twice that in Detroit. And yet, Waters said, the president is on a jobs-promotion trip through the Midwest that does not include any stops in black communities. "The Congressional Black Caucus loves the president too," Waters said. "We're supportive of the president, but we're getting tired, y'all. We're getting tired. And so, what we want to do is, we want to give the president every opportunity to show what he can do and what he's prepared to lead on. We want to give him every opportunity, but our people are hurting. The unemployment is unconscionable. We don't know what the strategy is. We don't know why on this trip that he's in the United States now, he's not in any black community. We don't know that."
When Waters asked her audience to "unleash us" and "tell us it's all right" to begin a "conversation" about the president's shortcomings in this regard, York reports, "some members of the crowd immediately voiced their approval."
In truth, it's quite obvious why Obama is "not in any black community": He takes the black vote for granted. Upward of 85% of blacks have voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in every presidential election of the past half-century. We're on record as predicting that will change eventually, but with the first black president seeking re-election, 2012 is certain not to be the year it happens.
As long as Republicans are unable to compete for the black vote, Democrats have no need to do so--except in primary elections, in which blacks make up a disproportionate share of the Democratic electorate. Almost everyone, including your humble columnist, has assumed that Obama, despite his growing adversity, is immune from a primary challenge because that would risk a rupture between the Democratic Party's two main constituencies (to both of which Obama belongs): the "progressive" elite and blacks. If black politicians are openly expressing disaffection with Obama, however, perhaps that analysis has been overtaken by events.
The assumption has long been that if there were a primary challenge to Obama, it would come from a prog like Sen. Bernie Sanders or ex-Sen. Russ Feingold (although Sanders is technically not a Democrat). What if instead (or in addition) a member of the CBC were to mount a challenge?
It probably won't happen, even if it is no longer out of the question. But here is what will happen: Obama's supporters will step up the accusations that his non-Democratic detractors are racist. The myth of widespread racism is the glue that binds blacks and progs, via the former's fears and the latter's moral vanity.
A perfect example is a MediaMutters.org post from yesterday: "Limbaugh Christens Obama's Bus Tour 'The White Like Me Tour.' " Commenters gleefully join in, denouncing Rush as racist, even though he said pretty much the same thing Maxine Waters did.
Barack Obama has one thing going for him, claims National Journal's Reid Wilson: "Americans still overwhelmingly like the guy":
Polling consistently shows that the majority of Americans view Obama favorably, even while they increasingly disagree with his job performance. . . .
"I consistently find in focus groups that swing voters like Obama personally. But they feel let down by his policies. They believe he is working hard, but going in the wrong direction," said Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster at Public Opinion Strategies. Obama "is in danger, though, of becoming Jimmy Carter: Likeable, but unable to lead the country out of difficult times."
It sounds to us as though the focus group participants find Obama more pitiable than likeable. That is, they do not take pleasure in him or hold him in high regard--what it usually means to like someone--but feel sympathy for him. Not long ago our friend Mike Carter sent along some anecdotal evidence that seems pertinent here:
Thought you might appreciate a view from the deepest darkest words of Oregon. I see dozens of different faces in my travels as a volunteer fireman and EMT, and one of the items we implement when checking on a patient's cognitive function is orientation to time, person, place, etc. I typically ask, "Who's the president?"
I should note that I've been doing this since 2004--and it's almost like having access to my own private sociopolitical thermometer; the responses are very telling when they (mostly) correctly identify who the current president is. When Obama was first elected, I'd get excited "Obama!" answers. These days, it's almost as if they want to wash their mouths out after uttering his name.
To be fair, there was a lot of the same sentiment about Bush, but recently I went on a call out to a house with a known strong Democratic-voting civic activist. The Obama-Biden stickers are still clearly visible on the two vehicles in this man's garage. When I asked him the age-old question, he immediately went into a vein-popping tirade about Obama. His face red with some apparent rage, I had to calm him down in order to get his vitals.
Obama plans yet another big speech next month, and the New York Times's Michael Shear is skeptical of whether it will do the president any good:
The idea is rooted in the notion that the president is a gifted orator whose path to the White House was made easier because of those skills. But in his two and a half years in office, Mr. Obama has discovered what many other presidents have: the bully pulpit is not always all it is cracked up to be. . . .
The declarations of presidential intention in his many speeches have more often run up against the difficult reality of hyper-partisanship in Washington. . . .
As a tool to make things happen--to move legislation, to advance foreign policy agendas, or to achieve compromise on tough issues--the speeches by Mr. Obama have struggled to accomplish their tasks.
The speeches have struggled? "The bully pulpit" isn't "all it is cracked up to be"? Couldn't it be that Obama isn't all he was cracked up to be--that his reputation as "a gifted orator" is wildly overblown?
It reminds us of this character analysis of Willy Loman, the tragic protagonist in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman":
In his world of delusion, Willy is a hugely successful salesman. He disguises his profound anxiety and self-doubt with extreme arrogance. Periodically unable to maintain this image of strength, Willy despairs and pleads with successful people around him for guidance and support. Despite his efforts, it becomes clear that Willy Loman is not popular, well liked, or even good at his job. In fact, he . . . never was. In all likelihood, he never will be. Now an older man, Willy can no longer drive competently, pay his bills, or sell anything.
More: "Despite Willy's evident failure to meet his (poorly chosen) life goals, he clings to a fierce belief in the American Dream and the promise that anyone attractive and well liked can make it big." Or, as the Los Angeles Times puts it, "the president has . . . revived a theme from his first campaign--optimism."