Are you in? It’s the current battle cry of the 2012 version of the Obama Campaign, and though on its surface, it almost feels like a casual question, it’s rife with much deeper meaning almost three-and-a-half years after the historic election of President Barack Obama.
On its face, and in basic terms, the question says will you volunteer for me again? Will you donate regularly and at the historic levels you did in 2008? But deep down, it forces those of us who worked so hard to support then Senator Obama to ask ourselves, do we still believe in the vision and the man? Can we see Barack Obama’s presidency in its totality and conclude that it has overall been a success, and that his policies and leadership have been better for the country? Despite the historic nature of the election, and the joy we felt as African Americans – has he delivered on the vision of America that he convinced so many of us was possible?
But mostly, the question is an acknowledgement that a lot has changed in four years. The average Obama supporter is no longer in wide-eyed wonderment over the prospects of electing our first black president – four years after history was made, many of us are still grappling with the socio-economic ravages of Bush Administration policies, and confounded over what seems to be President Obama’s commitment to adhering to some of the most unpopular of them – Guantanamo Bay is still open; we’ve expanded what has been a costly presence in Afghanistan under President Obama, and he’s failed up till now to end the Bush-era tax cuts given to the wealthiest Americans and corporations, despite the fact that the nation’s debt and budget deficit continue to skyrocket, and our social safety nets are on the verge of collapse. It’s just a fact – whatever their race, many of the President’s supporters find themselves disappointed in the wake of what have been characterized as broken promises made during the 2008 election, and there are those on the left that have been vocal about their belief that President Obama has given up too much in tough fights with Republicans these last few years.
Even a rabid Obama supporter like me can admit that there have been some disappointing moments in his presidency. I question the wisdom, for example of expending vast amounts of his political capital on waging a long and protracted healthcare reform fight, only to end up with legislation that as of this writing, is being challenged constitutionally before the Supreme Court, legislation that did not go nearly far enough to protect the nation’s citizens in a way that every other industrialized country in the world has been able to. I understood the rationale then, and I understand it now – tackle the sector of our economy that seems most intractable, and that is in the most danger of destroying our nation’s ability to sustain a healthy economy and more importantly, a healthy citizenry for the future – I get it.
The need for reform was even more important in light of the fact that Baby Boomers, who outnumber every other age group in the nation, are approaching retirement, and in danger of completely overwhelming the healthcare system as we know it now if we don’t get costs under control. Again, I get it, and you probably do to. But waging that fight at a time when the country was literally hemorrhaging jobs that have been too slow to come back, and the fact that it all may have been for naught if the Conservatives on the Supreme Court have their way, can’t help but make even the President’s biggest supporters wonder what he and his advisors were thinking.
So it’s 2012, and even I, the original Black Woman for Obama have to ask myself the question: are you in?
It’s not as easy a question for me to answer as it might seem. It’s not just about will I vote for President Obama – of course I will. The question for me and others like me is will I work myself into the ground again to ensure his re-election? As one of the pseudo leaders of the original volunteer corps, will I shut down a large part of my life once more to go out and make sure that as many people in the nation as possible work to get President Obama re-elected, give more blood, sweat, tears, time, and money? Has he earned it?
In my opinion? Yes. Actually, hell yes. And I’ll tell you why. Feel me on this one for a moment.
Several months ago, Melissa Harris-Perry, the brilliant college professor and MSNBC show host did a segment on the Rachel Maddow show called the Tale of Two Michelle’s, where she talked about the disparities inherent in the way the media (at the time) treated Michelle Obama versus how they treated Michelle Bachmann during her failed run for the Republican nomination. It so happens that I have my own two-tales story. I call it – “The Tale of Two Shovels”
The Tale of Two Shovels
So, imagine there’s a job – everyone wants it. And to do this job, you have to be good at doing two things – digging a hole, and filling it back up with dirt – that’s it. Dig the hole and then fill it back up with dirt. The thing is – you have to dig this hole in such a way that the one that comes after you, can always either a) start the digging where you left off or b) begin to fill the hole where you left off. Simple, right?
Now imagine that you get this job – from what you’ve heard, every one of your predecessors, from the beginning of time, has dug the hole, oh, maybe 5, six feet deep, and worked like crazy to fill it back in. You’re not nervous – you know you’re going to have to dig a little, or toss a little dirt in, and you’re up for the task. Well – imagine your surprise, when (upon reporting for duty your first day of work, shovel in hand), you find that the guy that had the job before you, has dug a hole 100 feet deep, and left it for you to fill. Oh – and you have no idea where the dirt is. You still only have 5 feet worth of dirt to fill the hole in with.
In essence – your predecessor has thrown his shovel down, flipped you the bird on the way out, and ran back to his ranch in Texas, I mean, back to wherever he came from, leaving you to deal with the bizarre results of his efforts. And now, not only are your co-workers pressuring you to fill in the hole, those folks who want the job after you are yelling for you to fill the hole. Everyone everywhere wants you to fill in the hole. Fill in the damned hole! Do it now! Yikes.
You try to reason with them – “my predecessor dug a MUCH bigger hole than he should have, a-and there’s no more dirt with which to fill it kind people!”, and they tell you to shut your trap – less yapping, more hole management! Enough about your predecessor, it’s YOUR hole now, and you have to find a way to fill it with dirt. And you better not complain.
Get the picture? President Obama took office at an historic time for America and the world; 700,000 plus jobs were exiting the economy each month; our auto industry was on the verge of collapse, and in danger of taking another one million jobs with it; the financial institutions in this country were disintegrating in the wake of too much greed and too little regulation and because of an expensive and unjust war in Iraq, our reputation around the world was in tatters – when President Obama took the oath of office, he had been left with a very deep hole to fill indeed.
And yet – here we are four years later, arguably through the worst of the last big recession, with an auto industry that’s back on top around the world, and with an economy that has added 200,000 new jobs each of the last three months. This is of course not to say that Americans are no longer feeling the pain of the recession, but it can definitely be argued that as a result of Obama’s leadership and his administration’s policies, a lot of the magical, disappearing dirt has made its way back into the hole. So yes – I’m in. And you should be too.
I believed back in 2008, and I believe now that President Obama is a leader for this time; even as we debate policies, and distill critical issues into 30-second sound bites, there are important realities that we face as a nation, realities that I believe have informed the President’s policies, and which are as important and impactful today as they were then. I call them “the three shuns”:
Globalization. The harsh truth that many don’t want to face is that our ability to conduct commerce across shores easily and seamlessly due to technology means that there are many, many jobs that have left this country that are never coming back. Period. Competing tax rates aside, there are just too many countries with cheap, plentiful labor who are willing and able to do the work Americans used to do, and who can now, thanks to the internet and other communications technologies that make doing business across thousands of miles feel like doing business across the hall.
Education. America is not educating its citizens adequately to compete in the recently mentioned Global Economy. According to a study done by the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment released in 2010, 15-year-old students in the U.S. perform about average in reading and science, and below average in math. Out of 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math. And even as unemployment continues to hover around 8.5 percent, many jobs that require high-tech skills are going unfilled and leaving companies no choice but to look outside our borders for workers they need.
Innovation. In every major recession since recessions have been recorded, it’s taken some major innovation to spur the country back into economic health. The commercialization of the Internet helped fuel economic recovery after the recession of the early 90’s, for example – innovation has facilitated the kind of economic expansion that results in periods of growth that are typically longer than the recession itself. But innovation takes a level of commitment that the nation has lost, and as a result, countries are cleaning our clocks when it comes to keeping up with our infrastructure, and investing in alternate forms of energy.
And I’m convinced that President Obama understands all of this, and that he has tried over the last three-and-a-half years (with debatable success), to manage the country to those realities always, with shovel in hand, trying to restore order to the hole.
And so as I look back on what’s been since my time as an Obama volunteer, and think about what’s to come, I can honestly say that no – this time, there will likely not be the tingles that ran up and down my and Chris Matthews’ legs during the last election; there may not be the adoring, impassioned crowds, the t-shirts and theme songs, or the plentiful celebrity spokespeople. And worst of all, there may not be the fired up, engaged volunteer corps that helped propel the President into office. So that’s where I come in. That’s where Black Women for Obama comes in. It’s our job this time to cut through the rhetoric, and the bias, and to spread the message of his real record – the record that includes passing the Lily Ledbetter Act to give woman equal pay for an equal days work; a record that includes more financial reforms meant to protect average Americans than anytime in history, and an expansion of environmental policies that rivals any recent President. And a record that shows an ability to go after and defeat our enemies, in ways that actually make us safer as a nation, without all the lip service.
I’m in – I’m still a Black Woman for Obama. I believe in what the next four years will bring, and I believe in the President’s ability to bring it. So I hope you’ll come on in too – the political waters are fine.