It’s the million dollar question. How do you properly critique the first African-American president as a member of his party, as a member of the black community, or both?
First, how not to do it. Call President Obama “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” That was Professor Cornel West, an outspoken critic of the president, who consistently fails to keep his verbal jabs based in policy and fails to offer any viable solutions. The personal flavor of his attacks and the sense that it’s clouding his judgment is not something that’s easily overlooked.
A second way not to do it is to overstate Obama’s so-called mistakes and mislead the public. During the debt ceiling negotiations, progressive groups fundraised off of the claim that President Obama said he is “pushing for benefit cuts in important programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.” Since the White House provides full transcripts a quick Google search proved this claim to be substantially overstated. It should not be fundraising over facts.
WATCH MSNBC COVERAGE OF OBAMA’S STANDING WITH BLACK VOTERS:
The Congressional Black Caucus on the other hand has stumbled upon the right way either deliberately or completely by accident. As they head on towards their last stop of the Congressional Black Caucus “For the People Jobs Tour” in Los Angeles this week, they are proving to be both vocal critics of the administration and loyal supporters.
When Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) took the directive from voters at the first of the town hall meetings that the CBC should be “unleashed” on the Obama administration in response to the lagging economy it’s as if the 43 members burst into the media spotlight. Their move to become critical of the administration has gained some of the most prominent and positive media coverage the caucus has seen in years. There are few things the mainstream media likes more than Obama critics with a “D” in front of their names.
The CBC’s critiques stand apart. They seem to be the only group or individual thus far to figure out that it is possible to both hold President Obama accountable and give him full throated support. Whether they can turn their efforts into legislative success is dependent upon their colleagues in the House of Representatives.
At a recent stop in Atlanta, Congressman Al Green (D-TX) called President Obama a “great president” and focused on tea party obstruction as the real barrier to progress. At an earlier stop in Miami, the CBC peppered Don Graves an assistant Treasury secretary President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness on whether the president really understands the dire state of unemployment in the black community.
However, CBC Chair Emanuel Cleaver made it clear that, “There’s not a hater up here on this [Miami] stage.” The absence of haters is what separates the CBC from other Obama critics. Another factor that makes them different is that unlike Ivy League professors, talk show hosts, and progressive political action committee they are individually accountable to constituents.
Their critique is coupled with substance and a piece of legislation on the most important issue of the day: jobs. Instead of slamming Obama for not yet proposing a robust jobs plan, the CBC has proposed their own plan. Instead of proclaiming that Obama isn’t doing enough for the unemployed their job fairs are literally finding work for struggling Americans.
In order to be effective, criticism must be constructive. It’s not possible for the Obama administration to improve the lives of Americans without being pushed by critics. The problem thus far has been the fact that critics have had personal grudges, monetary motives, or dishonest analysis of the administration’s successes and failures in order to raise their own personal profiles.
Very few of the critiques were aimed at helping Obama do a better job for the country. Most critiques did not come coupled with an organizational strategy to set the foundation for improved performance by this administration. As Obama has said in the past echoing FDR, “make me do it.”
The key message here is the call to action. President Obama cannot improve the economy without the help of Congress which passes the legislation. Pressure from everyday Americans individual members of Congress is one of the only ways we have until next fall to shape that policy agenda. We need to be the change and make the change happen instead of simply demanding change.
For the moment, the CBC appears to understand that the re-election of President Obama is essential to improving the lives of Americans and criticism that damages the office of the president will make him vulnerable next year. A President Obama who limps towards next fall is a scary prospect for all Americans except for the super rich.
Whether they meant to or not, the CBC has created a model for how to critique President Obama as an ally without coming across as a hater and the American people will be better for it.