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Manipulating Obama: high stakes politics speaks to true desperation


President Barack Obama’s re-election bid has posed some interesting dilemmas for those who helped push the “change we can believe in” agenda.

Since the election, the change agenda has evolved into a manipulation agenda, where everybody has a new demand for the president. The new demand is an extension of the old demands of classic “stakeholder” politics–what did the president promise versus what did the president deliver on, with a little “what have you done for me lately” added in.

The demands represent the segmented politics that either want to continue the change that pushes Obama back in, or be the change that pushes him out. President Obama cannot escape the realities of voter dissatisfaction around jobs, foreclosures and the economy, nor can he rest his hat on fixing things he had no control of (economy collapse, natural or manmade disasters).

He did catch and kill Osama bin Laden, and exposed the complicit politics of Pakistan in harboring terrorists, but that has largely been downplayed as a segue to a conversation about now ending the war(s).

At the end of the day, Obama is going to have to look in the faces of his various bases, not those who voted for him because they didn’t have a better choice (they are already gone), but those who really believed in what he was trying to do. Complicating his re-election efforts will be those “all or none” manipulators who got more out of this president than they would have gotten out of any other president four years ago, but still feel he hasn’t “done enough” or done what he promised.

At the front of the line here are, of course, the new “peaceniks,” those who wanted the United States out of Iraq and Afghanistan the day after he was elected. Wars, like almost everything else in politics, are engineered. They don’t just “start,” so they’re not going to just “stop.”

Just as the U.S. was engineered into these wars, we’ll have to engineer our way out of these wars.

The manipulation here is that the peaceniks want to say Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan, when the de-escalation of the war in Iraq and a shifted focus to Afghanistan was what nearly everybody was calling for three years ago.

Now that Osama bin Laden has been caught and killed, we’re supposed to just turn around and come on home. The demand will be unreasonable, but what can another president promise?

Obama is in the same situation with the universal healthcare “purists.” Passing the first universal healthcare initiative in 100 years was an accomplishment that has become a curse, largely because of the refusal of all sides to accept that “Obamacare” was just an incremental step on the long road to comprehensive, quality healthcare in the United States. Instead, you have half the nation trying to repeal it, or the other half complaining that it wasn’t what they advocated for. To suggest that “nothing at all” was better than “something to start with” is a manipulation of the president’s incremental intent, counterintuitive to Congress’ incremental policy approach and undermines the ultimate victory in the long fight for comprehensive healthcare reform.

Historically “ignored” segments of the voting population are also in the manipulation mix.

Certainly, several segments feel over-empowered as they seek to go into this election as the “tipping point” for the president’s re-election or ouster. At the front of the line is Obama’s strongest base, Black America. Early on, I thought some African American spokespersons were trying to manipulate the president for personal and petty reasons. I don’t need to call any names … those critiques didn’t really gain any resonance in year one. But in year three, more people are listening. Why? Well, the truth be told, 16.2 percent (25 percent in places like Detroit and Las Vegas) Black unemployment is not a good look for any president, 17.5 percent Black male unemployment is not a good sign for the symbol in the White House that looks like those with the highest unemployment.

Now, we love some Obama, but if the truth be told (again) … if this was a White president, we’d be marchin’ in the street, and Jesse and Al would be running for president again.

The standard of economic disenfranchisement must be applied to every president, including Obama.

The foreclosure crisis disproportionately affects Black homeowners so, when Professor Cornel West asked how he can help Wall Street but not Main Street, that is going to gain some resonance.

And neither issue has been satisfactorily addressed. This is not so much feeling that Blacks are trying to manipulate Obama as Obama trying to manipulate us. It’s gonna be something to watch whether a suitable explanation comes from the president before Newt Gingrich convinces his party to recruit Blacks to come over the dark side of Republican politics. That’s a joke (but it’s not).

The Latino community says it’s waiting on comprehensive immigration reform (and so is everybody else). The problem is that it means different things to different people. Obama can push it (as he did), but the Republicans won’t pass it. Yet, the threat is on the president’s re-election instead of unseating Republicans. Go figure?

Can they continue to give Republicans a pass on that issue? It’s not on the conservatives’ agenda in either the Republican or the Tea Party. The same with same sex marriage. Eliminating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” isn’t the same as advocating for same-sex couples. But there are some who don’t think the president has gone far enough.

Women are also loading up, even though he appointed two women to the Supreme Court. There’s still room to push the president further to put Hilary on the ticket (it’s coming). Unreasonable expectations cannot drive what is not reasonable or rational; one thing these groups haven’t thought about in their desperate quests for rapid speed political progress.

If they are not with Obama, what is their alternative? And can they do any better? That should quiet everybody down. But it won’t. They’d rather continue to try to manipulate Obama. That’s the only thing that will make the race interesting.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, “Real Eyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.

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