In a Daily Beast piece provocatively entitled “The Black War Over Obama” that focuses on criticisms of the president by Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, Allison Samuels has this to say:
Never mind the slings and arrows of Tea Partiers. The most politically problematic criticism of Obama these days is coming from his base. And there’s no question that there is a deep reservoir of frustration, confusion, and even rage among many in the African-American community for West to tap into. With unemployment hovering near 17 percent for African-Americans (the national average rate is 9 percent) and 11 percent of black homeowners facing imminent foreclosure, African-Americans have ample reason for anxiety about the coming budget cuts that Obama reluctantly signed into law this month. The Congressional Black Caucus chairman called the recent debt deal “a sugar-coated satan sandwich” that will do little to help communities already struggling.
Samuels is obviously correct about the economic distress of African-Americans (which is almost equally true of Hispanic-Americans). But the idea that African-Americans are abandoning Obama in droves, or represent his biggest political problem, is just not accurate, except in the very limited sense that in a razor-close election any vote lost could be crucial (and by that measurement, of course, losing the small handful of conservative Republicans that might otherwise vote for Obama could be crucial as well).
According to the latest Gallup weekly tracking poll of presidential job approval, which shows Obama dropping to 40% overall, his rating among African-Americans is at 81%. That his lowest Gallup showing among African-Americans since becoming president. It does not, however, translate necessarily into lost votes, given the rightward tilt of the GOP during the last few years, and the likelihood of a highly polarizing 2012 general election in which an exceptionally angry and vengeful conservative Republican base is going to make personal demonization of the first African-American president a 24-7 phenomenon.
This does not mean it would be wise for Team Obama to take African-American voters for granted, much less insist on policies that make their lives even more miserable. But it’s simply not true to say that Obama needs to worry about Cornel West’s increasingly sharp attacks on his presidency more than he needs to worry about any other category of unhappy Americans. Anything he can do to improve the job situation will help the most recession-affected communities the most. And anything he can do to draw attention to the radicalism of the GOP’s prescriptions for America will help him most politically with the minority voters whose wants and needs are so often viewed by today’s conservatives as irrelevant or destructive to the country’s true values and destiny.