What Has Obama Done?


/ November 6, 2012

The 2012 presidential election may come down to one question. Only you have the answer.

Jay-Z was standing onstage like he has so many times before. As usual, with cap cocked slightly to the side. But his usual new blue Yankee was now replaced by a Brooklyn Nets logo that beamed from above a black rim. Hov was headlining the Made in America festival, hosted by Philadelphia and sponsored by Budweiser, a heartland brand with strong ties to tractor pulls and NASCAR events. But there he was; the world’s most renowned rapper in his B-boy stance, just about ready to rip into his full set for a crowd of more than 40,000 attendees. Before he launched into his show, he paused for a public service announcement not produced by Just Blaze. The large screens behind him lit up. The face of President Barack Obama appeared. “Thank you, Jay-Z, for letting me crash your show,” began the prez. Then there was a noise, a sound unfamiliar to Jay-Z: A groan rose from the crowd. Boos followed and petered out as Obama continued.

The president’s pretaped message went on to give Jay-Z props for rising above his circumstances, and implore festival attendees to register and vote (Pennsylvania has recently passed one of the strictest voter I.D. laws in the country). The boos subsided and eventually turned to applause as Obama closed out. It was likely that the interruption was unwelcomed only because it put a pause on a Jay-Z performance, not because Obama was suddenly a pariah to this young and multiracial audience. Despite an eager crowd hungry to feed its rap fix, there was always the possibility that some of the hecklers had the question swirling around in their heads:

What the f@%k has Obama done so far?

Those angry words fueled the Tea Party’s hubris and filled Liberals’ indifference during Barack Obama’s first term. Flipped on its head, the question powered a clever Web site called whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com that outlined every major Obama accomplishment, from signing his first piece of legislation—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which reset the time limit for filing an equal pay lawsuit—to issuing the order to kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. But the Web site, with its seemingly infinite list of achievements, failed to silence Obama critics. And the question still lingers.

The inquiry had Nicki Minaj, or one of her preposterous alter-egos, rapping the praises of Republican candidate Mitt Romney: “I’m a Republican voting for Mitt Romney/You lazy bitches is fuckin’ up the economy.”

While Minaj was only shock-mongering with her lyrics, to most of us, the issues surrounding economy and the numbers associated with its survival muddy the waters. However, they tell only a fraction of the story. The national debt is boiling over at $16 trillion, about $120,000 per American household. The president’s approval ratings—which have fallen to as low as 38 percent several times—have been weighted down by a beleaguered economy and unemployment rates that refuse to fall below the number his economic advisors predicted (8 percent) after the 2009 stimulus plan ($787 billion). Black unemployment rates were 14.4 percent in June. The numbers go on and on. But those digits don’t explain the backing Obama enjoys from the Black and Hispanic communities.

In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that gauged the support for both presidential candidates, Mitt Romney received an astounding 0 percent of the Black support. Obama received a whopping 94 percent and 2–1 lead over Romney among Latino voters. There is something deeper at play than charts, graphs and statistics.

Black Republicans who were ushered into Congress in 2010 on a wave of Tea Party enthusiasm, such as Tim Scott and Allen West, would describe the support as blind connection to a party whose policy is detrimental to minorities.

But it’s not just the party they are reacting to, it’s also about the old anecdote oft told in political circles: The one about a grief-stricken man who watched the funeral procession of Franklin D. Roosevelt and seemed to take the president’s death extremely hard. An eager reporter approached the man. “Excuse me, sir. Did you know President Roosevelt?” “No,” the man replied. “I didn’t know the president. But he knew me.”

Today, there is a push by the Republican governors around the nation to enforce voter I.D. laws or to add new obstructions, intending to make it more difficult for minorities, the poor and the elderly to cast their votes. States like Florida, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Obama cut into Jay-Z’s concert, could suppress votes in the upcoming election.

At the Democratic National Convention in August, Obama offered an update on his hope and change theme of 2008. This time he turned the responsibility on you—us. “The election four years ago wasn’t about me,” he said. “It was about you. My fellow citizens, you were the change.” In Obama’s world, he has reframed the question. It is not about his action or accomplishment. When the 2012 election is history, the votes have been tallied and the president has been named, a different question will linger in the air: What the f@%k have you done?!