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Obama’s appeal to black voters was too little, too late

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The Democrats' last-ditch effort to inspire black voters couldn't overcome the demoralizing economy

This photo was taken after Obama's historic victory in 2008. What happened to us?

According to exit polling, black voters who came out in unprecedented numbers in 2008 to help put President Barack Obama in the White House, decided to stay home this time around. An estimated five percent of blacks voted in the 2010 midterm elections, compared to 13 percent in 2008.

Just looking at eligible voters, and impressive 60 percent of black eligible voters came to the polls during the 2008 presidential election, making that electorate the most diverse in U.S. history. In fact, black women had the highest voter turnout rate among all the demographics. Period.

This time is different. But despite the dismal turnout, black, young and Latino voters have not turned their back on the President or even the Democrats necessarily. We will likely continue to have your back in 2012. But as evidenced in the 2010 midterms, Obama and the Democrats will have to deliver if they want us to do it with any enthusiasm. If he continues to be as engaged with these communities as he has been in the last month, he can depend upon good solid turnout in 2012.


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The caveat is that Obama, until very recently, has been too overly concerned with appearing to “pander” to these constituencies. Just think about George W. Bush and the religious right, if you want to know what pandering is really about. The reality is the Democratic constituencies are an even more fragile alliance than Republican constituencies. Keeping this nearly ungovernable bunch on the same page ain’t pandering, it’s just good leadership.

The 11th-hour appeal to black voters
It started back October 11th with a commercial airing on national radio shows with a largely black audience. It was part of a $3 million outreach effort by the Democratic National Committee to urge African-Americans to show up and vote.

"On November Second, I need you to stand with ME…and VOTE," Obama said in the 60 second ad titled "Vote" that began running on Tuesday. The emphasis on "ME" and "VOTE" was added by the DNC in a copy of the script provided to CNN. The ad ran on the Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, Michael Baisden, Yolanda Adams, Russ Parr, Bev Smith, Doug Banks, Coco Brother, Al Sharpton and Warren Ballentine radio shows. Then, he did several interviews on black radio shows. He followed up with inviting members of the ethnic media to the White House for a policy discussion -- we, TheLoop21.com, got invited. Just last week, there was a push by black celebrities like Russell Simmons to get out the vote.

Are blacks turning their back on Obama?
Despite these efforts many pundits will be pontificating why blacks did not turn out in high numbers at the polls. I imagine the right will call the 2008 presidential election an aberration. They will say blacks simply are not reliable as a voting bloc.

The truth, I think is, many voters -- not just black folks -- are demoralized. I know I am.

Demoralized by the constant beating he takes from the right. Demoralized by expecting to see some significant improvements in the foreclosure and joblessness rates, having spent so much money to battle both. And frankly a bit demoralized by a president who ran such a personal and engaging campaign, but who once in office forgot how to keep us engaged or even bother engaging with us, until the 11th hour leading into the midterm elections.

A lot of the shortcomings of President Obama, I think are less about bad intentions than just political experience. He is clearly a brilliant guy but he also seems to lack the street smarts of a Bill Clinton. He has been a day late and a dollar short on messaging ever since Fox News turned the “end of life counseling” measure in health care reform into “death panels” -- a total and complete fabrication by the way -- but Obama was unable to regain leverage in the messaging wars.

But this demoralization really goes deeper. Unemployment in the black community is close to 20 percent, twice that of the overall population. The foreclosure rate among black families is 2.9 times the national average. The amount of wealth that has been lost in the black community due to the foreclosure crisis has ripped more wealth from the black community than any event in U.S. history. These are stark facts. Facts the Obama has not tried seriously to abate. Facts that cannot easily be swept under the rug simply because the he appears on the Tom Joyner Radio show.

If there is one lesson I hope that Obama and the Democrats take from this election, it’s that platitudes are not enough. Broad sweeping policies like health care reform, much of which we won’t really feel any benefits of until 2011 or 2014, when we, our families and our friends are literally struggling from paycheck to paycheck to hold onto our jobs and/or houses are not enough.

It’s also not about big speeches but big ideas, not necessarily progressive or conservative, that are more effective. To be specific, the mortgage loan modification program Obama initiated last year was a total failure. It was yet another occasion for the banks to take federal money then extend the middle finger to struggling home owners. But even if it were effective, it was not aggressive or substantial enough to put a dent in the foreclosure crisis. That’s why Obama never got any credit for it, because it was not effective. It appeared as if the administration was simply trying to appear as if they were solving a problem.

Even the tax breaks were handled in a counter-intuitive way.

Sure, maybe it makes sense in some “Economics 101” kind of way to give people gradual tax breaks, a few dollars back in each paycheck. Those few dollars easily go unnoticed. But I certainly didn’t forget about the $600 check I received from the IRS during the Bush administration. The fact is, voters don’t want an Economics lesson or a professor, but a leader. We know there are limitations as to what the federal government can do when it comes to creating jobs, but leadership is about vision -- and Obama failed at delivering voters a clear vision as to how we will get out of this recession.

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