Four years ago we shed tears of joy along with our African-American cousins when Barack Obama took the White House. As Obama seeks re-election hope didn’t change the world after all but Black Americans are still hopeful. A Wall Street / NBC poll found that Mitt Romney has zero percent support among African-Americans. That’s not a typo. Literally zero.
Black Britain is distant from this election, hovering somewhere between mild curiosity and disinterest. But in the US they’ve seen what’s on offer and want Obama as badly as ever.
Yet despite Black support the national polls suggest a close-run contest. Romney could yet win with hardly a Black vote to his name.
Remember, in 2008 more white women plumped for doddery old John McCain than Obama. Republicans have figured they don’t need the Black vote at all. They just need one in three of Obama’s white votes to seize power.
It’s a tall order to make white America hate the most lovable president since the saxophone-blowing Bill Clinton but they’re trying. They haven’t entirely succeeded yet the margins between victory and defeat can sometimes be as slim as a hanging chad.
With the US economy stabilising and unemployment falling anyone would think America would be at peace with itself. Yet since the atmosphere of political debate swirls with poison.
White commentators talked of a post-racial society but viciousness of attacks on Obama prove such ideas nonsense. There always has been a deep race divide.
First came the ‘birthers’ – a collection of crazed wingnuts who believe Obama was born in Kenya despite all proof to the contrary. Amazingly up to a quarter of Americans believe them.
Then there’s the small army of media loudmouths like Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh howling that the president is a Communist, Socialist or fascist dictator who doesn’t understand the American Way. ‘He wouldn’t, he’s foreign isn’t he? And his middle name is Hussein, so he’s Muslim too.’
Finally we have the notoriously racist Tea Party, a sort of Trotsky entrist faction, who pushed the Republicans so far Right they often appear in danger of toppling over the edge into outright insanity.
It’s not so much waking up to a President Romney that African-Americans fear as the army of swivel-eyed Tea Party supporters who would march into the White House behind him, starting with his hardline ideologue Vice-President Paul Ryan.
The old maxim ‘if you’re not concerned you’re not paying attention’ holds true now more than ever. Take foreign policy. Romney told Israel he would be relaxed about them launched a pre-emptive strike on Iran, a move that would surely spark a new Middle East conflict.
Not that Obama is without blemish when it comes to foreign policy himself. He’s currently waging a drone war against Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Mali and Yemen with a kill-list drawn on every Tuesday. So instead of capturing al-Qaeda extremists, subjecting them to rendition and torture before dumping them in Guantanamo Bay, Obama prefers to take no prisoners by killing them from the sky with all the ‘collateral damage’ that involves.
Yet domestically Obama has been a moderately successful president, a conciliator prepared to see only half his healthcare reforms go through if that’s what it takes. He still has the swagger but has lost some shine.
Obama has changed his message from ‘hope’ to ‘hopeful’, a subtle but important shift. Before, the world needed hope like a thirsty man needs an oasis. Today our hope is quenched but the belly rumbles from the lack of a square meal of economic justice. Obama’s message is stay hopeful. ‘Can’t you smell the cooking? No? Well, the chefs are hard at work in there, trust me’.
Mormon multi-millionaire Romney’s strategy is unashamed appeal to the middle class pocket. As Obama mocked in his convention speech: “Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high — try another. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning.”
Obama’s risky strategy is to promise no sweeteners which would hoist him by his own petard in his second term. The road will be long and hard, he says, but we’ll get to a better place.
While Americans are largely split about who they want, when asked who they ‘like’ the president commands a whopping 13-point lead. If it comes down to personalities Obama wins hands-down. Obama still does ‘being human’ better than anyone else, from singing Al Green to fist-bumping the White House cleaner. Michelle Obama remains his greatest asset among Black voters, and perhaps his greatest drag among whites.
His opponent, by contrast, is a stiff and humourless Washington veteran desperately trying to hide his wealth and dodgy religious views.
African-Americans are adamant about who they want. Surely Black Brits should stand with them?