Judging Obama six months in

This week marks 6 months since President Obama’s inauguration. The president has had a lot to deal with, having inherited a number of troubling domestic and international issues and being privy to new ones – such as the election debacle in Iran – that have arisen since he took office. The past 6 months have certainly been testing.

Although there was the customary speculation after President Obama’s first 100 days, the general consensus was that it was too soon to be able to tell exactly what the rest of Obama’s presidency would hold. With another 3 and a half years to go, it may still be too soon to tell. However, it is clear that the public is beginning to become more demanding of the president.

Recent polls show that the president’s approval rating has slipped a number of percentage points, to below 60%, as Americans ‘express doubts about his handling of the economy, the deficit and health care’. Although the fiercest disapproval comes, unsurprisingly, from Republicans, there has also been a dip in support from Independents – one of the president’s key support groups. Unsurprisingly, pundits are starting to wonder if the honeymoon is fading.

It’s clear that people have started to move beyond their personal feelings about Obama the man and are beginning to ask tougher questions of Obama the president. The lens through which Obama is viewed is becoming more critical and analytical since Americans now can base perceptions of him on his actual response to real life events and situations rather than just rhetoric about what he might do.

Various sections of the media have begun to report about a division between African-Americans in perception of Obama’s presidency. While such reports may be overstated, there is no doubt that people are starting to ask more questions about what Obama is doing specifically for African-Americans.

In theGrio.com, John A Powell of the Kirwan Institute for Race & Ethnicity has wondered if the economic recovery plan will reach African American households. He asks why Obama has not ensured that companies getting recovery monies specificy the racial groups to whom said money is going.

Then there’s the question of the soaring rate of African American unemployment. Boyce Watkins has demanded more answers from the President not only on what he intends to do to about rising unemployment, but what he intends to do about addressing the pre-existing racial disparities in unemployment. So far, the president has not answered those questions specifically.

African American gay and lesbian activists have been troubled by the President’s tardiness on gay rights issues, same-sex marriage and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the military. While educators, such as Noel Anderson, wonder if the president’s education reform policies are any different from those of George Bush’s.

Another question that has been asked is whether or not President Obama can and will continue to avoid talking openly about race for the next 3.5 years? In particular, can he do so when some racial gaps – especially economic ones – appear to be widening?

To the president’s credit, his push on healthcare reform is a positive for African-Americans. His focus on the environment and the green economy will also help with job creation. The past 6 months have also seen a number of African-Americans and minorities nominated and selected for high profile positions – Lisa P Jackson as head of the environmental protection agency, Dr Regina Benjamin as Surgeon General, Sonia Sotomayor as Supreme Court justice and Charles Bolden as NASA adminstrator. But it’s not enough for these people to head these organizations and divisions – tangible change must also occur.

Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll, noted that Obama’s current rating ”…is roughly the same as the rating of George W. Bush in early July of his first year, although well above that of Bill Clinton in July 1993.” Perhaps, in that case, the president doesn’t have much to worry about.

However, he must address issues faced by African-Americans, which he hasn’t done much of in the past 6 months. That’s clearly a voter bloc the president can’t afford to lose. Ignoring the community’s rising unemployment, economic woes and other disparities won’t do him – or America – much good.