By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
An Obama will again address the NAACP’s annual convention starting July 9 in Kansas City. It just won’t be President Obama. First Lady Michelle Obama will give a talk, and it’s not really billed as a key note talk, more an informal workshop type discussion on her signature issue, the campaign against childhood obesity. She’s not listed in the confab’s 10 page schedule of speakers, panels and workshops.
There are two thoughts about the president’s no show at the convention. One he’s adhering to his avowed, cautious, goal of doing and saying nothing that belies his race neutral stance as the president of all the people. An appearance or a message to the convention wouldn’t violate that. He appeared last year and there was no issue. And every Democratic and GOP president including Reagan and W. Bush has either spoke to the convention or delivered a message to the convention since there’s been an NAACP convention. With the exception of Bush, and only because he boycotted the convention for the first six years of his White House tenure, presidential addresses raise no eyebrows. The other thought is that Obama fears that an appearance before a racial advocacy group like the NAACP will give more ammunition to the Obama loathers, Palin and tea party activists. This is even less plausible. A no-show at the NAACP convention won’t do anything to stop their non-stop pound of his agenda and him. And he almost certainly knows that.
Obama did not give an official reason why he’s skipping the convention. But one can fill in the surface blank. His plate groans with Afghanistan funding and logistic problems, putting the finishing touches on the financial reform bill, the BP spill, and the looming fight over energy reform bill, stalled jobless funding bills, and the never ending press of requests to promote Democratic candidates. These are all plausible reasons for skipping the convention. But there are problems with his no show. He’ll be in Kansas City the day before the start of the convention to attend a fundraiser for Democratic Senate hopeful Robin Carnahan; so isn’t a schedule tweak possible? If not, a video message from Obama to the convention is certainly more than doable. An appearance or a message from him is the politically expedient, the practical and just simply the right thing to do.
The black vote has been the Democrats’ trump card in every election for the past half century, win or lose. If black voters had not turned the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries into a virtual holy crusade for Obama, and if Obama had not openly in the South Carolina primary and subtly in primaries thereafter stoked the black vote, he could easily have been just another failed Democratic presidential candidate. Through its voter education, vote awareness, and get out the vote campaigns, the NAACP played a colossal role in galvanizing and boosting the numbers of black voters, nearly all votes for Obama.
This is not old history. The 2010 mid-term elections are fast approaching. Political analysts, pundits, and even Democratic consultants are near unanimous that the Democrats will lose seats in Congress to Republicans. The only real question is how bad the political hemorrhaging will be. A solid and united GOP, and droves of independents who are disillusioned, disgusted and even hostile toward Obama, should make the black vote loom even bigger in Obama’s calculus. There’s little margin of error with this vote. He needs a reasonable facsimile of the November 2008 black vote outpour to save as many Democratic seats as possible, and serve as a partial shield against the withering non-stop assault from the GOP leaders, tea party activists, Palin, and Limbaugh on his agenda and his person.
It’s the right thing to do. For the past half century, the NAACP has fought tough battles in the courts and the streets for voting rights, affirmative action, school integration and an end to housing and job discrimination. The group still accurately captures the mood of fear and hostility the majority of blacks feel toward the Republicans, and the chronic Obama bashers. Whether Obama appears, sends a message, or simply comes and quickly departs Kansas City the day before the convention, the NAACP will still exhort, implore, and cajole blacks to vote, which again means votes for Democrats. The aim is to insure maximum support for Obama’s agenda and to do damage control against GOP attacks.
Obama needs the NAACP and the NAACP needs Obama. He’s still their best hope to hold the line against the GOP assault on job, education and health care spending and programs, as well as the fight for immigration reform, and the always crucial Supreme Court appointments. These are bread and butter issues and concerns for Obama and the NAACP. President Obama should say yes to the NAACP convention.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press). Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson