President Obama’s Base is Not Just White Progressives



Ishmael Reed has a very important piece on some recent political attacks on President Obama, especially by certain white progressives. After explaining how often his teachers in school considered him a discipline problem, and how more recently his articles have sometimes been characterized as “rowdy,” he discusses the attacks on President Obama by these mostly white progressives:

Progressives have been urging the president to “man up” in the face of the Republicans. Some want him to be like John Wayne. On horseback. Slapping people left and right. One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Mr. Obama.

Why are these calls for Obama to “man up” rather problematical:

What the progressives forget is that black intellectuals have been called “paranoid,” “bitter,” “rowdy,” “angry,” “bullies,” and accused of tirades and diatribes for more than 100 years.

If Obama ever appeared like Harry Truman or John Wayne did he would of course be very strongly attacked and dismissed as an “angry black man.” He will be caught in the very negative white racial framing of black men if he ever moves in that direction. Reed also points out the white liberals’ racist framing of who the “base” is that President Obama is supposedly alienating:

When these progressives refer to themselves as Mr. Obama’s base, all they see is themselves. They ignore polls showing steadfast support for the president among blacks and Latinos. And now they are whispering about a primary challenge against the president. Brilliant! The kind of suicidal gesture that destroyed Jimmy Carter — and a way to lose the black vote forever.

Very important insights indeed, yet this appears to be the first post in the mainstream media that notes that President Obama’s black and Latino (and I would guess Asian American and Native American) base is not slipping much. And Reed notes why:

Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all. They know how it feels to be unemployed and unable to buy your children Christmas presents. They know when not to shout. The president, the coolest man in the room, who worked among the unemployed in Chicago, knows too.

In our book, Yes We Can? Adia and I also assessed the great importance of candidate Obama’s “cool” approach (“Will Smith” approach) thus:

Given his unusual biography, newness on the political scene, and African-origin name, candidate Obama was well aware that the political odds were against him. He also knew that it was imperative that he present himself in a way that would be palatable to many voters, especially nonblack voters, given that he was not then a familiar figure to most in the U.S. electorate. Obama thus attempted to counter the way that his opponents depicted him using the old hard racial framing. His “cool strategy” enabled him to avoid many of the gendered-racist representations of black masculinity that are part of the white racist frame— the “angry black man,” “buddy,” or “sidekick”—because those would render him unpresidential. What he could do was maintain this cool strategy in which he was consistently unruffled, poised, and in control at all times. In this fashion he could still embody the gendered (and implicitly white) characteristics many people ascribe to presidents— that is, being assertive, in control, and decisive—without crossing the line into being angry or threatening. Establishing himself as someone with a typical American story, with a normal nuclear family, who was cool under pressure … was an approach that worked well for him in the national political sphere.