“What’s wrong with this photo?”
Quite a few folks are asking that question, among them Daily Beast writer Mansfield Frazier who bluntly describes it in a recent title as a “Young Republican Rally” (ouch):
Our first sitting president of color is so afraid of being labeled “president of the blacks” by his enemies that he goes in the other direction and earns a reputation for stiff-arming citizens of color.
In terms of the basic optics, that’s a good, first assumption to reach. The President does leave himself open to some harsh criticism about that, and the photo is no justice to his bi-racial, bi-partisan, Beer Summit cause.
But, it’s a very lazy analysis, a missed opportunity to get into some harsh realities about people of color and their economic realities that many Whites, namely Frazier and others like him, don’t want to think about at the moment. Just like they don’t want to think or talk about the Trayvon Martin case.
The photo is significant on a number of levels, but not from the perspective of political opponents looking to dent Obama’s organizational armor. Republicans might be the first to cry foul about it as a way to shift criticism away from the fact that, to date, presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney has no Black people on his staff – so, they’ll say it’s (ironically) the pot calling the kettle black. Haha.
True: it’s problematic on first glance because the optics are troubling for the “first Black president” as his campaign may come off as looking less diverse than assumed or desired. And it is true that Obama’s inner circle of advisers suffers from an overwhelming presence of White male political junkies like David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina. These guys are as White as they come. And, as many unemployed Black folks as there are out here, it would be nice to hire a few, right?
But, the trained political third eye will see a bit more into that. Campaign gigs, especially big national campaign gigs, require a level of commitment and intestinal fortitude that is unbelievably grueling for the novice. Campaigns jobs are not really jobs. They are lifestyles. Watch movies like Primary Colors and Ides of March to get a sense of that. The same goes with any political job – state, local or federal.
It’s a lifestyle that, frankly, will comport more with a middle class White college grad who has greater socio-economic flexibility to immerse him/her self in a low-paying, internship-level, grunt-work style job. Because they have the privilege of good credit, well-to-do parents, some savings and a world of no institutionalized racism whatsoever to deal with. Most Black folks, even college grads, don’t have that kind of flexibility and cannot begin to imagine the financial sacrifice that comes along with it. In summation: Being Black is already sacrificing every day.
Here, you have a situation of conflicting economic realities coming to a head. Frazier won’t talk about the 15% Black unemployment rate (which is really near 30% unofficially) and the poverty that ravages the community. That could be a culprit to Black hiring – who’s lining up for this type of gig. Few that are Black and unemployed are looking to “volunteer” for a national campaign; few that were a part of the Black middle class (before a quarter of it evaporated during the recession) are looking for a restart in an entry-level campaign position.
On top of that is what most observers agree is a very low fundraising election cycle for the Obama campaign compared to 2008. Republicans keep blabbering on about this $1 billion Obama war chest – but, where is it when the President only managed to raise $45 million in February rather than the $57 million he raised at the same time in 2008? You now have a situation where, to date, the Obama campaign is burning a massive amount of money on primarily staffing, to the point where Obama ’12 staffers are among the lowest paid.
Not to mention the instability of a campaign job that is only for a year or less. Most Black workers want stability. And some guarantee that a campaign job will translate into a full-time administration gig. There’s no guarantee on that. Some – contrary to bigoted public opinion – have families and are taking care of them. Some are looking to start families. And, there is that work-life balance Zen we all want. The job description, once you look a bit deeper into it, is not all that attractive.
One argument you can make is that African American political leaders and organizations, while stressing voter registration drives and hoodie protests, should also do a much better job of encouraging young Black adults to take on political campaign work. It’s the first stage into becoming a true political insider, strategist, consultant and adviser. Becoming a political insider is the real talk of politics – it’s one major path to true political power and control in the 21st century. And, all too often, our community is missing out on a major multi-billion dollar business called politics. This photograph is a good reason to think about that.