By William P. Muhammad
With the changing of the executive branch from republican to democratic hands and the subsequent strengthening of the democrat majority in Congress, the inauguration of President Barack Obama found many Americans exhaling a collective breath of relief. As the Bush years came to their celebrated end last January, many Black folk, among millions of other Americans, were left wondering: Where do we go from here?
The former Bush administration, perceived by many African-Americans as being insensitive and neglectful, left office with a national economy in shambles and two unresolved wars. Leading many in its wake to place perhaps too many expectations upon the new White House, President Obama has nevertheless pledged to institute long overdue changes.
Looking at the recently passed $787 billion stimulus package - the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - the White House hopes to save or create up to 3.5 million jobs over the next two years. However, with Black unemployment rates already in the double digits in many quarters, African-American communities and their leaders must consider how the masses of their people will actually benefit from it.
Harshly criticized from the conservative side of the isle, however, some partisan opinion makers have openly called for Mr. Obama’s plan to fail. While many republican lawmakers have taken a “hands-off” or “wait-and-see” approach for perhaps the same reason, Mr. Obama’s stimulus plan was passed primarily with the support of only one party.
The largest spending bill in American history and the largest national investment since President Eisenhower’s commissioning of the interstate highway system, Mr. Obama hopes to reverse the damage done to the economy by rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and putting Americans back to work. But with a conservative opposition at ideological variance with the President’s ideas, when the pie is finally divided, people of color and the poor may once again find themselves sacrificial lambs upon the altar of inside-the-beltway partisanship.
As the President attempts to solve the many troubles of the economy, Iraq and Afghanistan, political maneuvering among republicans and democrats is creating a potentially harmful distraction to real people suffering from real problems. While those responsible for the mess in which the country finds itself continue their bickering, posturing and talk show radio rants, the simultaneous changing of party images, by putting them in Black face seem somewhat suspicious.
With the recent election of former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele to chair the Republican Party, we are reminded of the old bait-and-switch routine where what we are shown and what we receive are two different things. Without doubt qualified and more than able to handle his new job as party chairman, Mr. Steele may very well find himself between a rock and a hard place as his job will be to woo people of color away from Mr. Obama and his national agenda.
However, if the GOP maintains its traditional opposition toward civil rights, affirmative action and the social safety net, electing a Black to “lead” the party could be described as nothing more than placing a new mask over an old face. Regarding issues important to the needs of African-Americans, other people of color and the poor, Blacks cannot risk the price of being fooled as the stakes are too high and the odds too great.
Nevertheless, now more than ever is the time for Mr. Obama’s initial supporters to remain vigilant. Since ‘power concedes nothing without a demand,’ the monies allocated toward the various sectors identified for federal assistance must be watched closely. Although the White House has stated its intention to provide transparency and accountability, the citizenry cannot allow inconsistencies or misappropriations to go unnoticed or unpunished.
With the republican governors of Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina (among others) talking of either rejecting outright or otherwise accepting only portions of the stimulus package, the most vulnerable populations within those states may continue to suffer more heartache, home foreclosures and unemployment. As partisan ideologies clash over control of federal resources the President is making available, one cannot help but to question why a governor would refuse such assistance.
Sounding like the fox refusing to cooperate unless it has the right to guard the hen house, conservative opposition, in Mr. Obama’s case, may not necessarily be what it appears. With nearly one trillion dollars on the table, inordinate greed on Wall Street and the future of the country hanging in the balance, Americans cannot afford to be complacent in this hour. For African-Americans, people of color and the poor in particular, now is time for getting up, getting out and getting involved in the country’s business. There is too much for us to lose should Mr. Obama’s agenda fail and we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines just watching.