Will the Real President Obama Please Show Up?

Mitt Romney, the unquestioned winner of the first debate had a good Wednesday night.   By Thursday,  Romney was strutting around feeling pretty good about himself like he had just laid out a factory’s workforce and sent their jobs to China.    Then the September job numbers came out and Mitt’s smile disappeared.   Unemployment had dropped to  7.8 percent, the lowest number in 44 months.   The president didn’t hesitate to crow about the good news.

“This morning we found out that the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since I took office. More Americans entered the work force. More people are getting jobs,”  Obama said during a campaign stop in Virginia.

Romney was far less impressed.

“This is not what a real recovery looks like,”  he sniffed in a statement.

Maybe so and maybe no, but the positive job numbers make a better case for Obama keeping his.

Instantly, indignant hows came from the Right that the numbers had been cooked.    Former General Electric CEO (and Romney supporter, same as Jenna JamesonJack Welch went to his Twitter account to grumble,  “Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers.”

Don’t make it TOO easy for him, Mr. President.

Welch must be getting old as well as bitter.  Obama is an excellent speaker as his 2008 speech in Philadelphia on race clearly demonstrated Hillary Clinton and John McCain. I can’t argue that he was awful in this first debate, but for Welch to say Obama can’t debate is totally and hilariously wrong.

Add good news on unemployment to the $181 million in campaign contributions the president and the Democrats brought in last month and if it wasn’t for the fact he went missing in action Wednesday night you could say Obama had a pretty good week.

In the aftermath of the president’s shabby showing some of his supporters have wondered if he was preoccupied with an unknown foreign policy issue or a family matter or some other distraction.   I doubt it.  Obama simply wasn’t into it and he didn’t bother concealing how much he didn’t want to be there at that time listening to Romney, a guy whom he clearly has little respect for.   But that’s no reason to give Obama a pass for his flop sweat.

Bob Herbert, the former New York Times columnist has had enough of excuses being made for Obama when he disappoints.   There is too much at stake for him to come off as disinterested.

Ever since he was elected, there have been reasons offered, either publicly or privately, for why Obama has been unable to fully engage some of the nation’s most important challenges. Despite the rampant increase in poverty in the worst downturn since the Depression, Obama supporters whispered that he couldn’t do more for the poor and couldn’t speak out more forcefully on their behalf because that would not be politically advantageous. So nearly all of his economic initiatives had to be couched in language that referred to the middle class, even though the poor were being hurt far worse. LBJ could launch a war on poverty but not Barack Obama.

Black Americans have been disproportionately clobbered by the Great Recession and its aftermath, losing both income and wealth at staggering rates. Much of the black community is enduring a full-blown economic depression. But Obama and his advisers have been unwilling to address this catastrophe openly and forcefully out of fear that the president would be perceived as too black by prejudiced white voters, thus losing their support.

There is always some excuse, some reason for not bringing all of the president’s energy and resources to the fight.

Herbert’s bitch slap of Barack is harsh, but it isn’t unfair. The president brought it on himself. I’ve heard too many people talking about Obama pulling a “rope-a-dope” and he brilliantly laid a trap for Mittens and I have to say two words: STOP IT!
There’s a disconnect between the Obama Realists and the Obama Idealists. The Idealists are incredibly protective of the president and eagerly rush to protect him from criticism even from his own side. The Obama Realists understand the president has his failings. but see the positives and potential and we want to send him back for a second term too. But we’re not oblivious to Obama’s shortcomings.

Let’s tell the truth.   Obama stunk up the joint in Denver. He let Mitt off the mat. He should have pinned him and secured the championship, but let him wiggle free time and again. Now the Obama Idealists are shrieking “How DARE you say Obama lost the debate. He PLANNED all this. He set a trap for Mittens and he walked into it. He’s got Romney right where he wants him!”

Obama blew the debate. He hasn’t blown the election, but if he  doesn’t care enough to fight for his presidency and his principles, don’t ask me to fight for him.

“Okay, I admit it. I don’t know jack.”


The Saboteur: How Jayson Blair Destroyed Newsroom Diversity

Jayson Blair made the job tougher for every other Black journalist.

(This is a column I wrote in 2003 in the aftermath of the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal at The New York Times.  Blair resigned in disgrace, but  not before he became the symbol of how wrong-minded affirmative action had blinded The Times to his deceptions and fabrications.)

There is a widely held assumption that the news media has a liberal bias, but if one of the tenets of liberalism is respecting and encouraging diversity then those of us who work in journalism can tell you there is no such bias.  If newspapers reflect the communities they serve, what’s staring back from the mirror is a White reflection.

According to a survey conducted by the Boston Globe, the newspaper industry had a net increase of four minority journalists in 2002, and the percentage of minorities in newsrooms increased to 12 percent.  Almost half of the nation’s newspapers employ no minority reporters, photographers or artists.

Whenever a Black journalist gets a hot job in the field or wins a Pulitzer Prize, their personal accomplishment feels like a small win for all the others trying to get on the up escalator.  This is why the now-notorious Jayson Blair betrayed not only his employers, his readers and his profession, but he made life immeasurably more difficult for every other Black journalist.

Blair’s name will become a fixture in future Journalism 101 classes.  He will become the embodiment of how one manipulative and deceitful individual can mislead his editors when determined to do so.  It’s news when any reporter’s misdeeds compels a newspaper to issue a front page explanation of his “crimes of journalistic fraud.”  It’s news of historic proportions when it is a reporter for the New York Times.

Even before to his ignoble fall from grace there were multiple warning signs that while Blair was an accomplished liar and plagiarist, he wasn’t a very good reporter.   The great irony of his deception is that it wasn’t his any of the esteemed editors at the Times who brought an end to his reign of error to an end.  It was a former Times intern, Macarena Hernandez, who had worked with Blair and gone on to work at the San Antonio Express-News and would discover a story of Blair’s was awfully similar to one of her own.

In his book, Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Crippled American Journalism, William McGowan sneered at the thought of bringing more Blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans into newsrooms.  “After 25 years of trying, the newspaper industry needs to give itself a break and say, ‘This isn’t important,” McGowan wrote,  “and focus on having accurate and truthful coverage, which it doesn’t have now.”

Macarena Hernandez: one of the good guys in a story without enough of them.

In his wildest fantasies, McGowan couldn’t have conceived of a Jayson Blair coming alone to prove him right.   Everyone who criticized the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ 26-year-old goal of making newsrooms as racially diverse as the communities they cover suddenly had powerful ammunition.

A chilly blast at diversity came from Slate columnist Mickey Kaus.  “The NYT story’s part line—that the underlying problem appears to have been communications—is a defense euphemism worthy of Nixon.   Everyone at the paper seems to have communicated quite clearly in January 2001.   Rather, the Blair disaster appears to (in large part) to be a fairly direct consequence of the Times’ misguided race preference policy.  Plenty of other factors were involved, but without ‘diversity’ it wouldn’t have happened.”

If Blair were a White liar instead of a Black one, would Kaus be suggesting papers stop hiring White people?  Why is it only people of color whom have to carry the sins of the few on the backs of the many?

“Jayson doesn’t represent me,” Hernandez said.  “I worked my ass off for everything I’ve ever got, and he doesn’t [represent] any of the minority journalists I know who have worked their asses off every day.”

Breaking into the bastion of Whiteness that is the typical American newsroom has never been easy, so it is fair to blame Blair for being in the back of the mind of the interviewer when a brother or sister doesn’t get the job?   Probably not, yet a small voice in the back of their mind may whisper as they dejectedly pick up their rejected resume to leave, “Did they turn me down because they’re afraid I might be another Jayson Blair?”

Bob Herbert, a Times columnist, fired back at those who would hold Blair up as proof of the failure of diversity efforts.  “There’s a real shortage of Black reporters, editors and columnists at the Times.   But the few who are here…don’t deserve to be stigmatized by people who can see them only through the prism of a stereotype.”

“The problem with American newsrooms is too little diversity, not too much,” Herbert said.  “Blacks have always faced discrimination and maddening double standards in the newsroom and they continue to do so.   So do women, Latinos and many other groups that are not part of the traditional newsroom-in-crowd.”

The tragedy of Jayson Blair is not a tragedy simply for Black journalists.  It is a tragedy for journalism as a whole and his skin color is irrelevant to his bad acts.  Blair didn’t commit his fraud because he is Black, but because he is a deeply flawed and troubled young man.  Eventually the system did work and he was caught, but the Times has some serious work to do in overhauling its fact-checking system and needs to do a better job in evaluating talent.

Former Times national correspondent E.R. Shipp was quoted in an Salon article rightfully placing the failure on delinquent editors and and a drug and alcohol addled reporter.

“It’s about getting hoodwinked.  It’s not a race issue,” Shipp said.  “It’s not about race or lowering standards to engage in affirmative action.   That’s bullshit.”

Blair never quite explained and never really apologized.

Shipp is right.  If it’s too much to ask one person to carry the weight of a entire race’s aspirations, it’s equally unfair to smear an entire race due to one person’s crimes.  Blair’s sins are his to bear and his alone.

Who gets the blame for what Jayson Blair did?  Start with Jayson Blair.

Originally published 2003 in a different form in Columbus Alive

Got Obama Fatigue Syndrome?

"Does Barack Obama have to bust a cap in 'yo ass?"

“I need everybody here to go back to your neighborhoods, to go back your workplaces, to go to the churches and go to the barbershops and go to the beauty shops. And tell them we’ve got more work to do.”

— President Obama speaking to the Congressional Black Caucus

“I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for.  I’ve been told that I voted for a man who was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class and I’m waiting sir, I’m waiting. I still don’t feel it yet.”

— Velma Hart, an African-American woman  speaking to the president at town hall meeting who identified herself as a chief financial officer, a mother and a military veteran.

Oh no!  There are Obama supporters that aren’t feeling the love anymore?   Does this mean–gulp!–President Obama could lose the Black vote?

Sometimes the scenarios the press and pundits bang away at are already written.  They sit back and wait for someone to fill in the blanks.

Velma Hart tells the man she voted for she’s tired of defending him and waiting for the change he promised he’d bring to Washington.  Film at 11:00.   The line forms to the left Mrs. Hart of those folks who feel exactly the same way.

Frustration sometimes gets confused with disappointment.  At times accidentally.  Other times quite purposefully.

Hart’s heartfelt words were seized upon by Obama critics as a sure sign African-Americans have lost faith in him.  “In plain English, she’s T-I-D-E of pretending the black agenda is being addressed” harrumphed blogger and “citizen journalist” Faye Anderson, a former colleague of mine when we both wrote the now moribund Politically Black.com.

I didn’t hear a woman frustrated with the president for not pushing “the Black agenda.”  I heard a woman frustrated with President Obama. That’s a fairly common sentiment these days.

If she had been a White woman and said the same thing, would Faye be claiming she was distressed about Obama not pushing “the Black agenda?”   This is Faye thumping the mythical “Black Agenda.”

Velma Hart needs a nap.

Obama is flailing a bit.  He’s pissed after two years he doesn’t seem to be getting any credit for the good things he’s done and he knows the Dems are probably going to get pounded in November.    Joe Biden is putting on a happy face and saying the Democrats are going to hold the House and Senate.  What else can he say?  “We’re gonna get our asses kicked?”

By the way, if there is a “Black agenda” who created it and why wasn’t I included?   Bob Herbert in the New York Times thinks he knows what set Mrs. Hart off.

Mr. Obama has seldom addressed black concerns directly, although many of his initiatives have benefited blacks. What has taken a toll is the perception that the president has consistently seemed more concerned about the needs and interests of those who are already well off, who are hostile to policies that would help working people and ethnic minorities, and who in many cases would like nothing better than to see Mr. Obama fail.

Most blacks are reluctant to publicly express their concerns about the president because they are so outraged by the blatantly unfair and often racist attacks against him from the political right. But many blacks are unhappy that Mr. Obama hasn’t been more forceful in the fight to create jobs. And there is disappointment over the dearth of black faces in high-profile posts in the administration.

There is real danger here for black people. In many cases, because of an excess of caution, policies that would help people in need are never even seriously considered, much less implemented. Forces that are hostile to blacks are not aggressively confronted, which, of course, empowers them. Perhaps more important, when you have to tiptoe around absolutely anything that has to do with blacks, it can leave the insidious impression that there is, in fact, something wrong with being black, something to be ashamed of.

We need to be careful not to corrode the joy and pride felt by blacks in the triumphs of African-American leaders.

Obama has twisted himself into a pretzel trying not to be ghettoized as “the Black President” but as “the American President who happens to be Black.”  He hasn’t always been successful pulling it off, but while I don’t deny there are issues of specific and particular interest to me as a Black man, I never was sold on the idea a Black man in the White House meant everyday was Kool-Aid and buttermilk biscuits for the next four years.

However, my friend Faye apparently has a different take on what Obama should have done.

I need a spreadsheet to keep track of the black-agenda-deniers’ efforts to, well, deny that African Americans expected more from President Obama than more of the same. But that would be too exhausting. Instead, I’ll track black voter turnout for the midterm election, which is only 41 days away.

Apples and oranges, Miss Anderson.

Black voter turnout is not indicative of a lack of faith in President Obama.  He’s not on the ballot, but thousands of White Democrats are. All politics are local and if local Democrats don’t deliver the goods it’s a referendum on their job performance and their campaigns, not the president.

Miss Hart says undeniable progress has been made by Obama, not “more of the same” but apparently you overlooked that little point?

It doesn’t make me a “Black Agenda denier” to ask WHAT the Black Agenda is, WHO created it and WHY I never got a chance to make my suggestions of what should be part of it.  I check my e-mail daily and return all messages promptly.

There is no Black Agenda.  There is no Black Agenda.  There is no Black Agenda.  Oh, and by the way, THERE. IS. NO. BLACK. AGENDA.

The Black Agenda is like Bigfoot: often talked about but never seen.

Obama needs to get things fired up