The Korea Herald


Should President Obama be allowed to keep his baton?

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 28, 2012 - 10:35

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Gen. George S. Patton -- that old “Blood and Guts” philosopher himself -- once said, “We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”

Most Republicans would love for President Barack Obama to get out of their way. Yes, exit stage left, please.

But most black folk would want him to lead for four more years. Try to the tune of 96 percent black voter support in 2008, according to

But should they? As we celebrate Black History Month, should black people blindly feel an obligation to support President Obama simply because he‘s black.

Roger Wilkins says no. “Do I think it’s their responsibility to vote for President Obama?” Wilkins explained from his Washington home. “No, I think it‘s their responsibility to be like other grown-ups in America and to be like the rest of the voters in the country. Are the goals this president is trying to reach good for you, your family, your neighborhood, your community? You assess it as a grown-up.”

The 80-year-old Wilkins was at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. At age 33, he was an assistant attorney general in the Lyndon Johnson administration, being one of the highest-ranking black officials in the federal government during that time.

“I think it’s incumbent for anybody to express their ideas in the polling place,” added Wilkins, who in 1972 began writing for the Washington Post, winning a Pulitzer Prize for his editorial commentary on the Watergate scandal. “I didn‘t think I was required to vote for President Obama, but I was happy to vote for him.

”It’s not just that he‘s black. He’s a moderately liberal Democrat. I‘ve been a Democrat all my life. I’m a Franklin Roosevelt Democrat.“

President Johnson undoubtedly was the United States‘ first civil rights president. President Roosevelt incorporated his ”New Deal“ policy in the 1930s and 1940s during the Great Depression; President Johnson was the architect of the ”Great Society“ program, which included his ambitious War on Poverty plan among several initiatives.

”President Johnson grew up in Texas,“ recalled Wilkins, who recently retired as a history professor at George Mason University. ”He saw how Mexican and black kids were screwed. It hurt him. His heart was in the right place. He thought people needed decent jobs, education, housing and health. I was very honored to work for him.“

Now fast-forward to 2012: Many black people this election season may face an intriguing question. If a black voter supported Obama in the booth in 2008, later got laid off from his job in 2010, then how do you vote? You say to yourself, ”I had a job during the eight years of the Bush administration but not under Obama. What do I do?“ So do you continue to support the president who was in office during the loss of your job?

Or do you switch parties and vote Republican? Or do you continue to vote for Obama because you consider him the lesser of five evils? Regardless of your plight, do you rationalize that Obama remains infinitely more viable/logical as a candidate for his re-election bid than GOP challengers Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum?

Only the individual voter can answer that. Pocketbook issues are truly personal. In other words, money in this weak economy is just as personal as family.

On the other side of the ledger, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the national black unemployment rate for January dropped from 15.8 percent to 13.6 percent, the lowest for black Americans in three years. For black men, the unemployment rate declined from 15.7 to 12.7 percent; for black women, it dropped from 13.9 to 12.6 percent.

Yet, despite those multiple declines, the black rate still lags substantially behind the national rate, which fell from 8.5 percent to 8.3 percent. In President Bush’s re-election year of 2004, the national unemployment rate was a ”paltry“ 5.5 percent. In June of 2004, the white employment rate was 5 percent; for black people, it was 10.1 percent. The ratio of those figures isn‘t unusual since the black unemployment rate for decades has doubled that of whites.

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama, told Black Entertainment Television in early February: ”We’re heartened to see that black unemployment did come down. That‘s a very important step in the right direction. But the president has a range of initiatives to ensure that we can tackle what has been a historical problem. It isn’t something that was created as a result of the last economic crisis. It was exacerbated by it. But it‘s been a challenge for a long time.“

President Obama also is facing a history challenge: Since the 1976 presidential election, every incumbent president, with the exception of Ronald Reagan in 1984, lost his bid for re-election when the unemployment rate surpassed 7 percent.

However, the unemployment rate is trending in Obama’s favor. In July of 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate was 9.2 percent; now it‘s 8.3 percent, meaning the jobless rate has dropped almost a full percentage point in six months.

In the uncertainty of the 2012 national economy, the new ”civil rights“ is really about ”silver rights.“ It’s about jobs for some vs. joblessness for many. That‘s the challenge of the Obama Order.

Says Wilkins, ”I think President Johnson really believed in the civil rights speeches that he made. He would have welcomed this young man _ Barack Obama. President Johnson would have been delighted. Johnson often said that he wanted to finish what (President Abraham) Lincoln started.“

And what was that? ”Equality for everybody; it was a big thing with him.“

Now, the baton is in President Obama’s hand. Will he get to keep the lead for four more years?

By Gregory Clay

Gregory Clay is assistant sports editor for McClatchy-Tribune News Service. -- Ed.

(MCT Information Services)