Can Obama Ambush Republicans With a Pocket Full of Blackness?
The President needs to be a little more Nick Cannon, a little less James Earl Jones.
Democrats bank on a weary, politically shell-shocked public eventually punishing Republicans in 2014, compounded by the constant of changing demographic winds that conservatives can’t shake. Generic mid-term ballots showing Democrats nearly three points ahead of Republicans give progressives breathing space. Unemployment is still high, growth at snail’s pace, and the sticker shock on everything from gas pumps to grocery lines evident—yet, Congress is muddled in AP-‘Ghazi-Tax-Gate madness over the scraps under the kitchen table. Voters will lash out on that.
But we’re still 18 months and stocks of unknown political problems away to make that assumption. Unaddressed is the second-term President presently stuck in a first-term mindset. Barack Obama has fantastically dropped the ball on messaging as “scandals” sucker-smack him from left jaw to right, his White House unable or just plain unwilling to put its elbow in it.
The President is now a slow-motion president, stumbling through cocky “let me be clears” and a temperament lost somewhere between “whatever” and being just plain bored. Blasé is tattooed across the aging lines of his frustrated forehead like a cruel fraternity boy joke.
Obama’s average approvals show a public stuck in neutral over his legacy, with polling aggregates finding him barely managing a 47 percent approval rating. Maybe he’s fine with that, but there is a dangerous lack of urgent tone on Pennsylvania Avenue, a mood that lame-duck months have already arrived.
Perhaps POTUS blames his graying hairs on hopelessly insurgent Republicans. But, lately, his moaning protestations about Congress this and Congress that fall flat on deaf and dismissive ears in other corridors of the country that know or care little about Washington process.
The public looks desperately for inspiration and flashes of rhetorical beatdown from President Obama. There is a sense they look for a flash of Blackness.
They want Sunday sermon-like visions of national grandeur like King—or, if that’s too black, then keep-it-real fireside freestyles like Roosevelt or take-it-all-the-way-to-the-moon homeruns like Kennedy. Fifty-eight percent of the country believes we’re on the wrong track—so what’s his plan for putting it on a better track, they ask.
His base wants him a little more angry, a bit more animated, and much less the inevitable punch line he’s becoming for hungry Republicans saddling up for midterms.
Why is that? Observers might point to the perpetually cautious Commander-in-Chief who leans too heavily on his professorial and esoteric ways when governing. But, could it be that the President has mistakenly contextualized his Blackness, particularly in a time when he needs it the most?
We’ve all become accustomed to his swagger and stiff composure, but—in terms of political theater—there are those who hunger for the Bulworth Moment. Or that Michael Douglas in The American President when POTUS sounds off on Senator Rumson. Or, where he reaches into a back pocket full of some the best in black literature, civil rights era rhetoric and Sunday sermons. Where he becomes much more an advocate than a president.
Of course, it wouldn’t be presidential to suddenly snap and rattle off expletives. And maybe that’s his concern—that he will look too black. He, thus, opts for James Earl Jones when some wish he’d pull a Nick Cannon or a Kevin Hart. As one unplugged black college student who voted Obama in 2012 put it: “He’s too busy being cute and hanging out with Jay-Z and Beyonce.”
Maybe that’s what the country needs, a jarring Obama Moment where he suddenly taps into Chicago street-wise rage and blasts the opposition. It could be the moment when he paints an unscripted and crisp portrait of what he wants to build. Yet, he seems to stubbornly cling to a sense of elevated upper middle-class customs, now light years removed from the struggles behind the First Black Family. But, the novelty has worn off. He is now in a final term with no worry of an election beyond that. It might be time for a hand-in-the-air freestyle and less finger points at the lecture podium. The country seeks a swift kick in its ass to push it to the next level. There’s lingering doubt that he’s rising to that occasion.
Charles D. Ellison is Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune and chief political correspondent for UPTOWN Magazine. He can be reached via Twitter @charlesdellison.