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Honest Criticism Is Not Betrayal; It’s Democratic

President Barack Obama works as his motorcade arrives at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, May 18, 2011. (Photo: Pete Souza / White House)


Honest Criticism Is Not Betrayal; It’s Democratic

President Barack Obama works as his motorcade arrives at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, May 18, 2011. (Photo: Pete Souza / White House)

A very troubling pattern is developing within certain segments of the African-American community. There's a concerted effort by some within the community to silence those who are offering honest, valid and well thought through analysis and criticism of the Obama administration.

Radio host Tom Joyner recently told his audience that those who criticize the president are “haters” and need to be quiet because he (President Obama) doesn't need the black vote to be split. On his radio program Rev. Al Sharpton recently attacked the motivations and integrity of those, myself included (full disclosure) who questioned President Obama's willingness to meet with the CBC to discuss targeted jobs legislation. Former Princeton Professor Melissa Harris-Perry recently referred to Professor Cornell West's critique of the Obama administration as, “a self-aggrandizing, victimology sermon deceptively wrapped in the discourse of prophetic witness …” As these and others attack the messengers, their analysis of the relevance of the message is woefully lacking.

These ad hominem attacks by Sharpton, Joyner, Harris-Perry and others, as well intended as they may be, are very dangerous to the African-American community and the democratic process. In Germany in 1933, one of the elements that brought an end to the Weimar Republic was an intolerance of dissenting opinions and vicious personal attacks on individuals who questioned the direction of the government. In 1950, McCarthyism was the order of the day; unsupported accusations of disloyalty ruined a number of careers and lives in this country. Is the African-American community in the midst of a Weimar or McCarthy moment?

Anecdotally, as others in the community attempt to engage in informed debate about the dismissals of Van Jones and Shirley Sherrod, allowing the Bush era tax cuts to continue, the escalation from two military endeavors to three (Libya), lack of support for union workers in Wisconsin, and other issues, they are summarily dismissed as traitors, “haters,” crazy and misinformed. Or, as Professor Harris-Perry describes, “the self-appointed black leadership class that has been largely supplanted in recent years.”

What is being overlooked is the fact that honest constructive criticism is not betrayal, it's key to the democratic process. In a representative democracy, it is very important for citizens to vote, but voting in and of itself is not enough. Staying engaged in the process and holding your elected representatives accountable is of the utmost importance and truly demonstrates democracy in action. If an interest group is not getting what it voted for, it is obligated to protest, question and demand that it does.

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Tom Joyner asked, “What would it be like without a black man in office?” followed by the statement, “If you don't support him it will be much worse.” It must be clearly understood that having an African-American in the Oval Office is not in and of itself a victory. Without substantive and measurable policy outputs that benefit the African-American community, the ethnic makeup of the president is irrelevant. Also, is the “… it will be much worse” statement supposed to be a comparison to Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R- Minnesota), or some other neoconservative reactionary politician? If so, why should African-Americans assess success by comparisons to the worst for us instead of policy outputs that are the best for us?

The critics of President Obama are not comparing him to some baseless abstract standard. In most instances, they are comparing Obama to Obama. He pledged to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, pledged to fight for the public option, pledged to end the Bush-era tax cuts and pledged to give “change we can believe in.” Many are claiming the more things change, the more they look like Bush.

To demonstrate his support to the Hispanic community, President Obama nominated the first Hispanic female Supreme Court Justice and supports the Hispanic communities call for comprehensive immigration reform by saying, “I want to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, to enforce our laws and also to address the status of millions of undocumented workers.” To demonstrate his support to the Gay/Lesbian community, President Obama supported ending the military's “Don't Ask Don't Tell” policy. To demonstrate his support for women and feminists in America he signed the “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.” Even as the tide shifts in the Middle East, the Obama administration continues to provide unyielding support for Zionist interests in America. As the African-American community evaluates its issues and options leading into 2012 and looks at a 16.2 percent unemployment rate, why not expect President Obama to use his bully pulpit to support targeted unemployment legislation to address this issue?

In 1857, Fredrick Douglas said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.” President Obama is the one in power, therefore, the African-American community must demand from him support for its just due. For the Joyner's, Sharpton's and Harris-Perry's of the world to call for quiet submission is dangerous and a clear demonstration of the exact measure of injustice they are willing to tolerate. Honest criticism is not betrayal; it's Democratic.

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