Obama Has Earned a Second Term, Let’s Get Him There
A political strategist explains why the president needs our support
What a year. We saw the rise and fall of Herman Cain. Rick Perry had a major brain freeze on national TV. Donald Trump flirted with running for president only to be schooled in what it takes by the current occupant of the White House. Newt Gingrich is a frontrunner for the GOP nomination. Mitt Romney’s chameleon like approach to politics has people asking just who is he and what does he stand for? Anything?
Then there’s Congress, being steered by a large and extreme group of Tea Party House Republicans who brought us to the brink of a government shutdown and a historic default on our financial obligations. It is fitting that we saw one last temper tantrum from House Republicans before Congress adjourned. This time, holding up a bipartisan agreement to temporarily extend the payroll tax-cut and unemployment insurance, before caving once political pressure became too much to bear.
Through it all President Barack Obama has showed himself to be one of the few adults in the room. The challenges he faced this year, on top of the challenges he inherited, like an economy on life support, a broken health care system, a massive deficit, and America’s engagement in two wars, were unprecedented. Add to that, congressional Republicans openly rooting for him and his policies to fail, and it is pretty clear he was dealt a tough hand.
There are many Americans who are frustrated with Washington. For hard-working folks trying to provide better futures for their kids, all they see is a dysfunctional political system inhabited by politicians more interested in playing games than getting things done. Many thought President Obama’s historic election would be transformative – that Washington would suddenly change overnight.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened yet and may never happen, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon Obama. Quite the contrary, through all of the noise from the Tea Party, questions about the President’s Americanism, ridiculous right wing claims that he is socialist, through it all, the President has fought for an agenda that benefits all of us, not a select few.
Is he the supernova that came out of Iowa in 2008, no, not yet at least. He’s done less than what I would have liked on some fronts. I wish he had been tougher with Tea Party Republicans during the debate over the debt – a serious issue, but no more important than the need to create American jobs right now. The economy is certainly not where it needs to be, the unemployment rate among African Americans is over 15% - UNNACEPTABLE. I am sure the President agrees, that’s why all he has been talking about for the last few months is his American Jobs Act, which economists predict will create several million jobs.
Make no mistake, if African-Americans don’t support the president at the same levels as we did in ’08, his path to reelection is much more difficult. Take a look at several states that will be critical battlegrounds in ’12 and compare Obama’s performance to that of Sen. John Kerry in ‘04, and you’ll see why the African American vote is so important to the Obama campaign. Kerry lost Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia with 86%, 85%, 84%, 84%, and 87% of the African-American vote in those states, respectively. On the other hand, four years later, Barack Obama won all five doing on average 10 points better with black voters than Kerry performed in each state. No group of voters performed better for the President than African-Americans. Are we critical to his reelection chances? You better believe it.
So with less than a year until the President faces the voters, why should his ’08 supporters, particularly African-Americans, come out in droves again to support him? Here are just a few reasons. The last month of the Bush Administration, we lost over 800,000 jobs, continuing a pattern of anemic job growth under the Republican president. Under Obama we have had 21 straight months of private sector job gains. Under Obama, more private sector jobs have been created than under 8 years of Bush. The Recovery Act, credited by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office with adding over 3 million jobs, stopped the free fall that began under Bush, help put people back to work and kept millions out of poverty.
The President has insisted upon and won increased investments in education, making it easier for families to afford college, send their kid to a Head Start program and for out of Americans to pick up new skills so they can better compete for the jobs of tomorrow. He cut taxes for middle class families, small businesses, and most recently ensured taxes wouldn’t go up on 160 million working Americans who benefit from the payroll tax-cut.
In addition, the new health care law bans discrimination based on pre-existing conditions expands access to preventative care, provides the largest tax cut ever to small businesses so they can purchase insurance, lowers prescription drug costs for seniors in the “donut hole” and reduces over payments to big insurance companies. The bill, while far from perfect, is a step forward whereas Republicans want to take us backwards and return power to the big health plans.
Oh, and he ended the war in Iraq, made the call to take out Osama bin Laden, put in place common sense rules for Wall Street banks to live by, brought needed transparency to the credit card and payday lending industry, and rescued the auto industry, when many Republicans would have done nothing and let Detroit go bankrupt. Now the American auto industry is thriving. And don’t forget he signed a historic nuclear arms treaty with Russia, signed legislation that provides funding to African American farmers discriminated against by the USDA, empowered the FDA with new tools to take on “Big tobacco,” and secured significant investments in HBCUs and minority serving institutions.
But the question that I come back to is who can I trust to look out for everyone, not just those with influence? Who shares my values? Folks, we have seen the Republican movie before. Here is a preview of what you can expect: massive tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires at the expense of middle-class Americans; stripping consumers of newly won health care protections and rights; privatizing social security and ending Medicare as we know it, repeal of Wall Street Reform, draconian funding cuts affecting education, health care, veterans, and job training. The movie was terrible the last time, why would we go see the sequel?
Lastly, and I think this is the most troubling aspect of what I am seeing in the Republican party – the GOP is openly embracing right wing views and zealots who are committed to dividing us. Their idea of change is embracing the same policies that got is in this mess in the first place. Their leaders are people like Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump, and Sarah Palin who profit by spewing divisive language meant to incense their right wing acolytes.
So over the next 11 months you'll need to ask yourself: what kind of America do you want to live in? Barack Obama has only had three years to fix problems that have existed for years, let’s give him four more years to finish the job.
Doug Thornell is a Senior Vice President at SKDKnickerbocker, a leading political consulting and public affairs firm based in Washington DC and New York.