Black Politics

Dr. Boyce: Obama’s Approval Ratings Rise, So What Does That Mean for “Us?”

President Obama’s job approval rating has risen to 50% for the first time since last summer.  The poll comes right after news that there were 227,000 jobs added to the US economy.  Additionally, the percentage of Americans who disapprove of the job the president is doing has dropped to 48% from 49% last month.

Many attribute the rise in the poll numbers to economic growth.  Others are taking a look at the divisive and sometimes sloppy Republican presidential campaign, where no clear candidate has emerged.

“The economy is improving,” said Ipsos pollster Cliff Young. “Not by leaps and bounds but people feel that things are getting better.”

The percentage of Americans who feel that the country is headed in the right direction also increased from 32% last month to 37% today.

This is good news for President Obama.  Whenever I’ve been asked about President Obama’s chances to win re-election, I’ve always had a very simple answer:  “It’s the economy.”  Like the quarterback of a football team, the president typically gets extraordinary credit for economic growth and extraordinary blame for economic decline.  Massive budget deficits and worsening job numbers were laid on the president’s back from 2008 – 2011, so it only makes sense that he would be rewarded for economic growth this year.

One group that has been forgotten in all of this celebration about economic growth is the African American community.   Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that black unemployment rose yet again this month, to 14.1%.   This is much higher than the 8.4% number claimed by the rest of America.

If African Americans have a bone to pick with the Obama Administration, it is the fact that they’ve turned a terribly blind eye to targeted economic policy for communities most affected by the economic downturn.  Three years ago, the president told African Americans that the “rising tide will lift all boats,” meaning that neither he nor his administration felt compelled to try to address racial inequality in economic opportunities, which is a clear and undeniable problem in our nation’s history.

The Obama’ Administration’s passive response to racism was likely designed to counter the extreme reaction of those who wanted to punish the president for acting like he cares in the least about black people.  We are America’s political mistress – everyone wants something from us, but no one is willing to claim us out in public.  Although we provided a quarter of the votes to get Obama into office, some feel that we are out of line for asking that our interests be represented – this just doesn’t make any sense.  That’s like giving someone a fourth of the money they need to start a business and then having them tell you that you that they are going to give the profits to someone else.

Telling black Americans that the “rising tide will lift all boats” is like saying “let them eat cake” during the French revolution. As a result, our nation experienced exactly what you expect when we choose to ignore racial inequality:  the problem has gotten worse.  Wall Street bankers have seen a massive economic recovery (their recession ended before any of us), and white Americans have seen their unemployment numbers improve to levels that black folks can only dream about.  African Americans, on the other hand, have seen their numbers worsen.  Wall Street bankers recovered the fastest because there were TARGETED injections of financial resources to help solve their problem.  African Americans may never recover because we’ve only been told to accept whatever trickles down from white American-owned corporations that hire us last, fire us first and rarely give us promotions.

So, effectively, we have a world in which millions of African Americans have no secure place to put their vote.  Racism serves as a cap of political opportunity, keeping black people from being able to vote in their interests.  Black conservatives who are unhappy with the policies of the Obama Administration can’t vote for openly racist Republicans.  Black progressives seeking solutions to racial inequality and the prison industrial complex can’t support Democrats who don’t seem to realize that these problems even exist.

What’s left is the symbolic value of having a black man in the White House.  Symbolism is probably all you’re going to get from Obama or his cabinet, but symbolism may be all you need if you are part of the 86% of African Americans who are gainfully employed.  Barack Obama’s success in securing re-election shows that whether you are conservative or liberal, ignoring black folks is the way to get elected.  But in a nation that is so deeply committed to the preservation of racial inequality, it’s hardly a surprise that politicians are rewarded for succumbing to the demons of our past.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, Black American Money. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.




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