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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Should President Obama be allowed to keep his baton?

    Gen. George S. Patton — that old “Blood and Guts” philosopher himself — once said, “We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”

    Most Republicans would love for President Barack Obama to get out of their way. But most black folk would want him to lead for four more years. Try to the tune of 96 percent black voter support in 2008, according to

    But should they? Should black people blindly feel an obligation to support President Obama simply because he’s black?

    Roger Wilkins says no. “Do I think it’s their responsibility to vote for President Obama?” Wilkins explained from his Washington home. “No, I think it’s their responsibility to be like other grown-ups in America and to be like the rest of the voters in the country. Are the goals this president is trying to reach good for you, your family, your neighborhood, your community? You assess it as a grown-up.”

    The 80-year-old Wilkins was at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. At age 33, he was an assistant attorney general in the Lyndon Johnson administration, one of the highest-ranking black officials in the federal government during that time.

    Many black people this election season may face an intriguing question. If a black voter supported Obama in the booth in 2008, later got laid off from his job in 2010, then how do you vote? You say to yourself, “I had a job during the eight years of the Bush administration but not under Obama. What do I do?”

    Only the individual voter can answer that. Pocketbook issues are truly personal. In other words, money in this weak economy is just as personal as family.

    On the other side of the ledger, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the national black unemployment rate for January dropped from 15.8 percent to 13.6 percent, the lowest for black Americans in three years. For black men, the unemployment rate declined from 15.7 to 12.7 percent; for black women, it dropped from 13.9 to 12.6 percent.

    Yet, the black rate still lags substantially behind the national rate, which fell from 8.5 percent to 8.3 percent. In President Bush’s re-election year of 2004, the national unemployment rate was a “paltry” 5.5 percent. In June of 2004, the white employment rate was 5 percent; for black people, it was 10.1 percent. The ratio of those figures isn’t unusual since the black unemployment rate for decades has doubled that of whites.

    Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama, told Black Entertainment Television in early February: “We’re heartened to see that black unemployment did come down. That’s a very important step in the right direction. But the president has a range of initiatives to ensure that we can tackle what has been a historical problem. It isn’t something that was created as a result of the last economic crisis. It was exacerbated by it. But it’s been a challenge for a long time.”

    President Obama also is facing a history challenge: Since the 1976 presidential election, every incumbent president, with the exception of Ronald Reagan in 1984, lost his bid for re-election when the unemployment rate surpassed 7 percent.

    However, the unemployment rate is trending in Obama’s favor. In July of 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate was 9.2 percent; now it’s 8.3 percent, meaning the jobless rate has dropped almost a full percentage point in six months.

    In the uncertainty of the 2012 national economy, the new “civil rights” is really about “silver rights.” It’s about jobs for some vs. joblessness for many.

    Says Wilkins, “I think President Johnson really believed in the civil rights speeches that he made. He would have welcomed this young man — Barack Obama. President Johnson would have been delighted. Johnson often said that he wanted to finish what (President Abraham) Lincoln started.”

    And what was that? “Equality for everybody; it was a big thing with him.”

    Now, the baton is in President Obama’s hand. Will he get to keep the lead for four more years?

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