by Tonyaa Weathersbee, BlackAmericaWeb.com
If President Barack Obama had mounted a search for the remnants of the coalition that, just two years ago, propelled him and the Democrats into power, he might have found bits of it scattered at a job fair yesterday in Greensboro, North Carolina.
One brother, who was interviewed by a television station, said he had to make a choice between taking a ride to that jobs fair or to go vote.
The job fair won out.
Obama should take heed. Because no matter what the pundits say, no matter how they spin the results of the first midterm election after two years of rule by the nation’s first black president, what’s clear is this: People always vote their pocketbook.
Or – in the case of this brother – not at all.
In many ways the president, like so many other black firsts, has been held to unrealistic expectations. He inherited the worst recession in more than 20 years, as well as two wars and a ballooning deficit. Add to that an electorate that was grappling with unemployment and economic uncertainty, one that was as nervous about the future as it was hopeful about it.
Obama came along, promising hope and change. He’s accomplished much of that. Among other things, the president has signed laws to allot more money for college grants and made it easier for women to challenge pay discrimination. His Cash for Clunkers program pulled America’s automobile industry from the brink. And he managed to pass the landmark health care law – a law, which puts the United States on the road to universal health care.
Problem is, people are better able to savor such accomplishments if they aren’t preoccupied with finding or keeping a job. And for much of the coalition that put Obama over the top two years ago – a coalition that included blacks like the job-hunting brother, young people, Latinos and progressives – jobs is their main motivator.
But not a lot has happened for them there.
So the challenge for Obama, beginning today, is to find a way to re-energize the coalition that brought him to power. He’s going to have to tap into their hopes again, first by making jobs a priority, and then immigration reform, and so on.
Of course, that will be a lot more difficult now. The attacks of Tea Party wingnuts, Republican obstructionists and Fox News – attacks designed to exploit the uncertainty of the electorate through planting doubts that maybe, just maybe, the black guy doesn’t have the stuff needed to run this country – have taken their toll. He’s going to have to deal with a Congress led by people more committed to destroying him than uplifting the nation.
But even if they try to obstruct Obama in creating jobs, if he’s at least seen as being heavily invested in that grassroots issue, and not aloof and more wrapped up in high ideas than in common issues, that will go along way toward helping him piece his coalition back together.
That coalition, in fact, could counteract the Tea Party simply by being energized by solutions – and by isolating the Republicans, who are powered more by their hatred for Obama than their ideas for improving the country.
So there’s a lesson for the president today, as outlined by the brother in North Carolina who spent Election Day looking for a job. He must get back to work on putting people first. Somehow, he must make that his centerpiece and take charge of defining the debate that will invariably surround it.
While what Obama has done so far is historical and important, it wasn’t enough to get enough young people or black people or Latino people out to vote for the people who would help him continue to do that. And it’s not that they no longer believe in hope and change.
It’s just that hope and change goes better alongside a hefty serving of jobs.