Will President Obama Become Mayor Dinkins?

Consider this the sounding of the alarm.

A narrative is beginning to develop regarding the 2012 presidential election that, while true, interesting, and worthy of discussion, seems to miss the more important point.  It goes something like this: With astronomically high unemployment rates and a general lack of attention, a limited amount of grumbling has begun to develop in some segments of the African American community regarding President Barack Obama and his policies. The grumbling, as the narrative goes, will not impact African American support for President Obama’s reelection because Blacks want to protect the President. But something is missing in this narrative and is a more important point that Mr. Obama’s campaign would do well to include in its electoral calculus. President Obama could retain the same proportion of the African American vote, but of a smaller Black electoral pie. If that happens then President Obama could become David Dinkins – a groundbreaking electoral winner who loses reelection, at least in part, because Black apathy keeps a significant portion of his base at home.

David Dinkins had a long and distinguished political career when, in 1989, he beat incumbent mayor Ed Koch in the Democratic primary and Republican-nominee Rudolph Giuliani in the general election to become the first African American mayor of New York. There was a huge historical outpouring of support to get Dinkins elected mayor and his victory made international headlines. Even with record African American turnout, it was still a tight race in the overwhelmingly Democratic city. As Jonathan P. Hicks noted in a 1993 New York Times article, a shift of 22,000 voters in the total of 1.8 million voters would have swung the election toward Giuliani.  Dinkins lost a rematch with Giuliani four years later, in part because Black turnout receded.

It is understandable why some Black voters are concerned.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the June 2011 Black unemployment rate stood at 16.2 percent (for context, the June 2001 Black unemployment rate was 8.3 percent). This number does not reveal the true picture as it excludes people who work part time because they can’t find full time work or people who have given up and are no longer looking for work, so the effective unemployment/underemployment rate is likely higher. Add to this a plunging of Black wealth in the economic crisis and Republican efforts to suppress the Black vote and it won’t be any wonder if some voters conclude that there is no point in showing up on election day. To the extent that the President has anything to say about African Americans, its about the need for Black fathers to “step up” and show “personal responsibility.” While that is an important message, it is one that anyone can give. The President needs to use his bully pulpit to bear witness to Black suffering and publicly show that he cares. When a President speaks on an issue, it immediately becomes important. Conversely, an issue can be seen as inconsequential if he publicly ignores it. Ignoring the unique issues in Black America could leave some, and it does not have to be a lot, to ignore him on election day.

Dinkins’ reelection campaign was hurt by, among other factors, a feeling that developed in some Black neighborhoods that he was more focused on other parts of his electorate. As one African American political consultant put it in 1993, “When Black people see the Mayor traveling to Israel during the Gulf War, but not visiting their community in New York City, it fuels the perception that he cares more about other communities in the city.” Substitute Mayor with President, Israel with Wall Street, and New York City with America, and the similarities between Dinkins in 1993 and Obama in 2011 could become more than coincidental.

The President could lose his reelection bid if enough Black voters stay home because they either do not believe the Republican nominee can win or they just do not feel the same urgency to show up on election day. Not voting for your candidate is the same as voting for his or her opponent, so it could be African American voters who keep the President from a second term. In 2008, Mr. Obama won Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida by small margins on the strength of Black votes.  If enough Black voters in those states stay home, then the Republican nominee will take the oath of office in January of 2013. While there are other segments of Mr. Obama’s base that are lukewarm at the moment, there is no way he can win with a smaller universe of Black voters.

David Dinkins’ name is not on the tips of very many tongues these days, particularly among people who do not live in New York. Obama campaign officials would be fools if they did not learn a thing or two about him and how he lost his reelection bid nearly 20 years ago.

Michael K. Fauntroy is associate professor of public policy at George Mason University. He blogs at MichaelFauntroy.com.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Thursday, August 04, 2011
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New Audio: Fauntroy Discusses Anthony Weiner and Michelle Bachmann

I had the pleasure of appearing on NPR’s “Tell Me More” with Michel Martin. I, along with Mary Kate Cary, discussed Anthony Weiner’s resignation and Michelle Bachmann’s prospects for winning the Republican presidential nomination.

Here is the link. Let me know what you think.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Friday, June 17, 2011
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New Audio: Fauntroy Discusses Republican Presidential Hopefuls


I recently discussed the growing group of 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls on Tavis Smiley’s Public Radio International Show. It’s always good to be on with him and I hope you’ll check out the link. As always, please pass it on to someone you know.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Monday, May 30, 2011
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Michael Fauntroy Discusses Black History Month

Here are two clips from a recent roundtable discussion I participated in on Fox 5 Morning News in Washington, DC. I was pleased to be on with Dr. Edna Medford, history professor at Howard University, Kinshasha Conwill of the Smithsonian Institution, and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton of DC.

Part 1 - Black History Month Special: MyFoxDC.com

Here is part two of the discussion:

Part 4 - Black History Month Special: MyFoxDC.com

Posted by Admin on Sunday, February 27, 2011
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New Audio:  Michael Fauntroy and Ron Christie Discuss Obama Budget Proposal

Here is the clip of a discussion I participated in on the Thursday, February 17, 2011 edition of NPR's "Tell Me More" with Michel Martin.  I, along with Republican strategist Ron Christie, discuss President Obama's FY 2012 budget proposal.  While I am concerned about the cuts in programs I think need more support than they already get, I understand that this is just the first step in the budget battle and I'm hopeful that fewer reductions will be targeted at the poor and working class people.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Friday, February 18, 2011
Barack ObamaCurrent Affairs • (0) Make a Comment

You Can Now See “The Forum with Michael Fauntroy”

"The Forum with Michael Fauntroy" is now on the air! I'm really excited about the show, a 30 minute one-on-one interview with newsmakers, authors, and others and hope you'll check it out when you get a moment.  So far, I've interviewed former member of Congress Walter E. Fauntroy, TransAfrica Forum President Nicole Lee, professor and author James Pfiffner, professor and author Susan Tolchin, and ACLU of the National Capital Area Executive Director Johnny Barnes.

I also hope you'll be sure to tell a friend about "The Forum." The show can be seen online at GMU-TV at the following times:

Sundays at 8:30 AM
Mondays at 7:00 PM
Wednesdays at 8:30 PM
Thursdays 2:30 PM
Fridays at 7:30 AM
Saturdays at 8:30 AM

You can also catch the show on the following Northern Virginia cable systems:

Arlington County Comcast Communications, Channel 69
Alexandria Comcast Communications, Channel 73
GMU Fairfax Campus Campus, Cable 18
Fairfax County Cox Communications, Channel 18
Reston Comcast Communications, Channel 18
Northern Virginia Region Verizon FIOS, Channel 18
Northern VA/Washington DC/MD The Capitol Connection, Channel 9
Eastern Prince William County Comcast Communications, Channel 99
Western Prince William County Comcast Communications, Channel 99
Loudon County Comcast Communications, Channel 99 

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Saturday, February 05, 2011
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New Audio:  Fauntroy Discusses President Reagan’s Legacy on NPR’s “Tell Me More”

Here is the link to my discussion (with former Reagan appointee Linda Chavez) on NPR's "Tell Me More" with Michel Martin.  We discussed Reagan as we come to his 100th birthday and in the wake of Michael Reagan's column "Ronald Reagan -- Our First Black President?"

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Saturday, February 05, 2011
Race and American PoliticsU.S. Electoral Politics • (0) Make a Comment

Teaching Black History:  A Precious Legacy Lost?

It’s Black History Month, a time for all people to pause and celebrate the contributions that African Americans have made to the nation and the world.  These contributions, big and small, have helped make the America in which Blacks now live the world’s most important country and have also created a multi-century list of accomplishments of which all African Americans, young and old, rich and poor, can be proud.

But while I think it’s a time to celebrate Black culture, I can’t help but wonder what needs to be done to build on past gains to ensure future success.  I also wonder if our young people, who are increasing distanced by time from the Civil Rights Movement,  really appreciate that which has been given to them by the civil rights generation.  The change in America’s racial status quo that opened previously locked doors to them was won with the blood, sweat, and tears of the civil rights generation.  The fruit of their struggle is a precious legacy left to today’s teens and twenty-somethings.  I fear that many of the post-civil rights era babies are disconnecting from that past.

I’m particularly worried about young Black people and whether they understand what the civil rights movement was about or if they are getting the cultural enrichment that they need in order to have a well-formed sense of self.  The self-confidence that comes from understanding who one is and from where one comes can provide a wealth of protection from life’s cultural slings and arrows.  If this sense of self and understanding of what Black people in America have overcome is fading, then what are we celebrating each February?  Further, how do we keep traditions and history in the minds of our kids when the primary mechanism for transferring information from one generation to the next–family oral history–is less possible as the nuclear Black family has deteriorated to a point where more than 60 percent of Black children are born out of wedlock?

I think African Americans need a "right of passage" exercise–a cultural equivalent to Hebrew School, if you will–in which Black children learn all that they need to know about their heritage and the contributions made by their predecessors to the nation and world.  This is needed because much of the nihilistic and dysfunctional behavior coming out of some of Black America is due to a poorly formed sense of self.  It is needed as well because it is a mistake for African American parents to rely solely on schools to teach children about Black history (or any other non-white history for that matter).  Formal education should be supplemented by home and other cultural institutions, and should not be seen as the only form of learning.

Given that school systems around the country are homogenizing history and seeking to blot out or overlook anything that reflects poorly on the idealized view of America, it is incumbent upon Black families to impart more, not less, Black history upon our children.  Failing that, we can only expect more, not fewer problems in the Black community.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Monday, January 31, 2011
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Follow Fauntroy on Facebook!

I just wanted to let you know that I also hang out at Facebook.  Please visit and tell your friends about my fan page: Dr. Michael K. Fauntroy. Like the page, if you like!

Until next time . . .

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Saturday, January 22, 2011
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Fauntroy on Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here is a clip from a piece I did with Shawn Yancy on the WTTG, the Fox affiliate in Washington, D.C., in which I discuss Martin Luther King, Jr. and the holiday in his honor.

The First Family Works in DC for MLK Day of Service: MyFoxDC.com

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Tuesday, January 18, 2011
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Obama Treating Friends Like Enemies and Enemies Like Friends

A review of President Barack Obama and his White House's interaction with congressional Democrats and Republicans reveals a troubling narrative: On too many issues, the President and his staff treat friends like enemies and enemies like friends.  This is troubling because, I believe, the overwhelming majority of congressional Republicans are enemies of this President.  They are dedicated to his failure in office and no amount of bipartisanship or compromise on his part will ever change that reality.  It will only embolden Republicans to demand more capitulation.  They will oppose him no matter what and he should govern himself accordingly.  Dealing with them is a waste of time. Instead, he is quick to anger with those who are with him more frequently (congressional Democrats) than his political enemies (congressional Republicans).

This was made plain by President Obama's comments following the announcement of a deal with congressional Republicans on Bush-era tax cuts.  What began as a single issue matter - whether to extend those tax cuts - morphed into a fiscal relief gumbo that will add $700 billion to the national debt.  Particularly galling is the estate tax capitulation.  The agreement set an exemption of $5 million per individual and a maximum rate of 35 percent for two years. The estate tax, which was dormant this year, was going to return in 2011 with an exemption of $1 million and maximum rate of 55 percent.  Other aspects of the deal include an extension of jobless benefits through 2011 and payroll tax cut by 2 percent for every American worker through the end of next year. Ultimately, all you need to know about the deal can be found in its supporters and critics.  Very few Republicans are unhappy with this deal, despite its massive damage to the deficit/debt, while a critical mass of Democrats are trying to clean the residue out of their Christmas stockings from the lump of coal Obama gave them.  Meanwhile, Republicans are working to undermine the healthcare reform he just signed into law and other presidential initiatives.  And yet, he still deals with them as if they are really want to do the right thing. Give me a break.

George W. Bush, an incompetent President, never treated his base as contemptuously as Obama deals with liberals.  Even when Bush angered them - No Child Left Behind and rampant federal spending, for examples - he worked hard to keep them in the fold.  Not so Obama.  He responded to the criticism launched from within Democratic ranks that he sold out his campaign promise to let the tax cuts lapse by dismissing his critics as sanctimonious and fixated on purist policymaking.  This is an unproductive response is part of a trend.  White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs derided the "professional left."  Former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel lashed out at some liberal groups as "f+@king retarded" for their plans to run ads against conservative Democrats opposed to the President's health care plan.  These and other examples will likely be duly noted when the fundraising requests for the 2012 reelection campaign begin to hit the mailboxes of the sanctimonious professional left retards that elected Obama in the first place.

Worst of all in this may be his statement that he agreed to extend the tax cuts because the Republicans were holding the middle class tax cuts hostage to the high end.  In effect, he gave the GOP a roadmap to rolling him - hold hostage something he wants until he agrees to give you what you want.  It also appears that you won't have to hold the hostage very long before he gives in.  How can he fight the Republicans tomorrow when he folded up his tent so quickly today?

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Barack ObamaCongress and the PresidencyCurrent Affairs • (0) Make a Comment

Takeover Takeaways

Change (from Blue to Red) The 2010 elections provided a much for the Republicans to celebrate and Democrats lament.  However, there are some takeaways both parties need to keep in mind going forward to avoid a electoral disaster in 2012. 

Off-year elections are all about the President. Democrats can cite all the reasons they want as to why they got punished at the ballot box.  Some of the reasons – economy, history, and spending – certainly ring legitimate.  However, history tells us that off-year elections are a referendum on the President.  In all but one off-year election since 1946, the President’s party always loses seats in the House.  The question of how many is directly linked to the President’s approval.  According to Gallup, if the President’s approval is above 50 percent, the losses are limited to an average of 14 seats per election.  If the approval number is below 50 percent, the losses grow to an average of 36 seats.  President Barack Obama, saddled with an approval rating in the mid-40's, was the primary cause of the Democratic debacle.  Takeaway: Dems need to buck up and accept the truth that Obama’s aloof style is a turn off and better communication and voter engagement is the only way to fix it.

A pox on both their houses.  While some Republicans may claim the election is a mandate in support of their agenda, exit polls tell a different story.  Fifty-two percent of polled voters have an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party.  That’s hardly a surprise given their unified control of government and the current economic woes facing the country.  However, 53 percent have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party.  Congressional Republicans who think the outcome of this election is a mandate for their view of governance are overstating the case and run the risk of the kind of overreach some say the hurt the Democrats.  Takeaway: The Republicans now have to put their collective hand on the steering wheel and they better be responsible with it.

Look for rematches in 2012.  We now have a different electorate for off-year and presidential elections.  Off-year electorates are older and whiter than those in presidential years.  That tells me that Republican gains in 2010 could be reversed in 2012 if turnout demographically mirrors 2008, which featured a younger more racially diverse voter profile energized by a charismatic Black candidate.  Given the well-documented racial/demographic changes facing the country, Republicans will be hard pressed to maintain the gains they just won.  Meanwhile, Democrats that lost close contests in marginal districts may be willing to seek rematches in 2012 because the demography of their district may be more favorable than now.  This, of course, assumes no major changes following redistricting.  Indeed, the likely court challenges may force many states to keep their current boundaries for 2012. Takeaway: Republicans should not overreach and Democrats should not think all is lost.

Obama the triangulator.  The President has a choice to make: Drop or de-emphasize his desire to win bipartisanship and govern with an eye toward energizing the Democratic base for 2012 or take a page from Bill Clinton’s book and triangulate his way to reelection even if it means coopting Republican ideas.  If we know anything about Obama, it is that his personality will lead him to triangulate.  He should hope for a useful foil on the other side and it seems likely that Speaker-elect Boehner will accommodate him. Takeaway: Obama may have to throw overboard some Democrats in 2012 to keep his job.

African American Republicans.  One of the underplayed plot lines in this election was the so-called rise of African American Republicans.  Forty-two African Americans ran for the Republican nomination for House seats; 14 won.  Going into this election, three had legitimate chances to win and two – Tim Scott of South Carolina and Allen West of Florida – actually won.  They are the first African Americans to serve in the House since J.C. Watts in 2003.  GOP activists will try to suggest that they represent the vanguard of Black Republicanism and genuine competition for African American votes.   Takeaway: While two is certainly an improvement on zero, there is no credible evidence that this is the start of a trend. 

Michael K. Fauntroy is associate professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of Republicans and the Black Vote.  He blogs at MichaelFauntroy.com.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Barack ObamaCurrent AffairsU.S. Electoral Politics • (0) Make a Comment

A Disturbing Lack of Diversity on PBS News and Public Affairs Programs

Count me among the millions of people who value public broadcasting.  I think it is a viable and necessary alternative to commercial broadcasting which, too often, waters down its ability to tell the truth for fear of running afoul of its corporate benefactors.  However, a recent study conducted by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) leads me to wonder if I may be giving too much credit to the news and public affiars broadcasting offered by PBS.  According to FAIR:

  • The NewsHour's guestlist was 80 percent male and 82 percent white, with a pronounced tilt toward elites who rarely "go unheard," like current and former government and military officials, corporate representatives and journalists (74 percent). Since 2006, appearances by women of color actually decreased by a third, to only 4 percent of U.S. sources.
  • Viewers were five times as likely to see guests representing corporations (10 percent v. 2 percent) than representatives of public interest groups who might counterweigh such moneyed interests--labor, consumer and environmental organizations.

While all this is disappointing, here's the stunner for me-- 

  • The NewsHour, "public TV's nightly newscast," is actually privately owned. For-profit conglomerate Liberty Media has held a controlling stake in the NewsHour since 1994. The company is run by industry bigfoot John Malone, who has declared that "nobody wants to go out and invent something and invest hundreds of millions of dollars of risk capital for the public interest." Public dollars still support the NewsHour, and former PBS president Ervin Duggan declared the show "ours and ours alone," but Liberty CEO Greg Maffei refers to the program as "not our largest holding," but "one we're very proud of."

I know that qualified people exist who represent a wider swath of the American populace (I, if I may be so bold, am one of those people).  So why does PBS do so poorly when I'm so sure their audience would not respond negatively to a more diverse pool of analysts, commentators, and subject matter?

Here is the link to FAIR's magazine Extra!, which details the disappointment.

What say you?

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Monday, October 25, 2010
Current AffairsRace and American Culture • (0) Make a Comment

Tea Party Racism Confirmed

The NAACP caught some heat earlier this summer when it passed a resolution at its annual meeting calling on the Tea Party to turn its back on racism.  This report, written by Devin Burghart, Leonard Zeskind, and the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, should end the debate about whether there are racist elements within the Tea Party.  They document the extent to which the Tea Party movement includes, at its highest levels, people who have trafficked in racism.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, October 20, 2010
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Obama:  The Very Model of a Modern U.S. President!

Here's a clip which spoofs President Obama's critics.  Very funny.


Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Thursday, October 14, 2010
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