Photo caption: Crews work during a rehearsal at the University of Denver in Denver, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, where the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is scheduled for Oct. 3. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
President Barak Obama is leading Republican challenger Gov. Mitt Romney according the latest polls, and he’s still widely supported in the African-American community. But questions do simmer beneath the surface about his performance during his first term in office, and his commitment to issues affecting the black community.
Opinions abound about the 44th President and what he accomplished from 2008 through 2012.
Did he forsake the Black community? Is he too conciliatory? Are a few questions that have been raised. But his accomplishments are there, they’re just not as publicized as his failures.
“Part of the problem is that people don’t know about many of the good things he’s done.” said Delores Holmes, a long time social worker and alderman of Evanston’s 5th Ward. “Everybody’s so focused on the negative stuff. Evanston received 18 million dollars in stimulus money to construct affordable housing in the community and it’s working really well –to me that is excellent.”
Obama’s accomplishments on the economic front in neighboring Indiana were also helpful, according to Melissa Monroe, a railroad engineer and social services worker at Grace Unity Church in Gary.
“In Indiana he’s helped the automotive industry and helped Indiana as a whole. President Obama’s been out helping and supporting from Elkhart to South Bend, and all the way down to Indianapolis,” Monroe said. “He’s been a major contributor in trying to help get these businesses going and resurrect things that people said were dead in Indiana. He’s been trying to come through and make a difference and it’s very much appreciated.”
Making a difference hasn’t been easy for Obama, as he battled congress and struggled to garner support for many of his policies. Some say it was the opposition he faced, while others point to his own failures.
The resistance from the republican controlled congress that President Obama was faced with was the main reason he couldn’t get his policies rolling said Matt McGill, radio host at WVON-AM/1690.
“Overall the first four years has been one of execution and a term where he was on a learning curve.” McGill said. “He has learned how to deal with a congress that he assumed was going to work with him in the beginning, but turned on him very quickly. He had to go through some growing pains as far as trying to get his policies pushed through congress.”
Monroe also thinks the opposition he faced impacted his effectiveness, but did not derail him.
“I think he was successful to a point based on what he was given to work with. The criticism and negativity toward him coming in the door was hard, but what he’s trying to do is excellent. Not because he’s the same race as me,” she said. “But because he’s trying to make a difference and clean up the mess that was given to him when he came in.”
Opinions from the other side of the aisle lean toward Obama’s political agenda as the reason for his lack of progress.
Republican commentator Lenny McAllister said it was Obama’s own decisions that caused his presidency to be so thorny.
“I think if I had to give him a letter grade I would give him a C-. He hasn’t done as bad of a job as some conservatives say, but he did not perform up to par for his most loyal block, which are African Americans,” McAllister said.
“Obama could have done whatever he wanted legislatively for the first two years of his administration,” he said, adding, “But he chose to focus on health care reform – not on getting people back to work and not the immigration issue. He chose to push health care which is going to end up being more expensive for the country and impose the first-ever mandate on the American people by the federal government when it comes to buying a product.”
Obama’s skills as a diplomat are lauded at times, but others see his diplomacy as being overly conciliatory. He needs to step up and assert what he really thinks is right more often, said Brian Allen, a U.S. Army veteran and radio talk show host.
“He spent too much time up front trying to compromise with the republicans and work with them rather than realizing it wasn’t going to happen and that they were just out to destroy him,” Allen said. “He should have focused on strengthening his ties within the democratic party so they could fight more effectively for what they wanted. He needs to show that he can really stand for something and not be so prone to just capitulating.”
The delicate, but ever-present issue of race is always a big factor in analyzing Obama’s presidency. People have expressed concern about his empathy for issues that plague African Americans and he is often portrayed as disconnected from the man on the street.
“The emphasis shouldn’t be the race thing,” said Monroe. “We have to realize that we as a people need to get out and help ourselves as well. We can’t put the emphasis on President Obama being the savior of all black men and women. If people get off the color thing then they can appreciate what he is actually doing.”
Yet, race remains a factor for Obama and it would be disingenuous to downplay its importance.
“The first Black president has yet to take office – we’ve had the first African-American president, but we have yet to have the first Black president,” stressed McAllister. “I say that because how often have you really heard this president advocate for Black people.”
Another hurdle Obama has to clear is the one of high expectations. He promised a lot of progress early on, and his constituents expected a lot from him.
“I think our expectations are that because he is black that he is going to do things that were targeted to just the Black community. But to me he is president of the entire nation, not just of the Black community,” said Holmes.
“The expectations were so high that there was going to be some disappointment,” McGill added. “I think that African Americans have now become aware of the political challenges that this president has faced – they’ve become more understanding of his presidency.”
Obama has also been criticized for not doing enough about the gun violence that has been exploding in cities across the country, most notably here in Chicago.
“That’s a dual job – it’s a job better suited for the First Lady Michelle Obama,” Allen said. “The president can support that and he should be an advocate for stronger gun laws and getting weapons off the street, but the problem is deeper than that and starts with economics. I don’t think he’s done enough to strengthen the economic position of the nation and that has had a profound impact on the African-American community.”
Heading into the first of three debates that begin Wednesday, Obama’s campaign is on solid ground. He leads in several battleground states and his lead in Illinois is 13 percent.
There are no guarantees of victory, however, and his supporters are bracing themselves in case he falls short.
“It would be the most devastating moment of my political life. If Nov 7 comes and President Obama is not in the white house I will be in a state of disbelief,” said McGill.
Monroe also said an Obama loss would be tough to bear, but not disastrous.
“It would sadden me to a point, but I’m going to look at the next person and say ‘Ok you got in so now what are you going to do’”. “You have to just keep moving – you can’t have race riots and things like that, you have to look at the next person’s objective and see what they have to offer.”
McAllister offers this assessment of the Obama legacy should he lose the election in November: “He’s historic because he was the first African American president, he’s not historic because he was a groundbreaking leader who happened to be president. But that’s what he should be and it’s disappointing, and at the very least unfortunate that he’s not.”
But the bottom line to the whole process, and supporting any candidate is to get out and vote.
“Voting is the only way you can have a voice in politics – voting is the only way you can change your current condition,” McGill said. “You have no right to complain about life in America if you don’t cast a vote.”