Could African-Americans be the next constituency to turn away from Barack Obama? Polls show that the president still enjoys high approval ratings from black voters. But with unemployment hitting inner-city communities nearly twice as hard as the rest of the country, low rumblings of discontent are growing louder.
Actor Danny Glover recently groused to The Daily Beast that "I don't see anything different" between Obama and George W. Bush on foreign policy. After Obama accepted Harry Reid's apology for his "Negro" remark, Georgetown scholar Michael Eric Dyson accused the president of running "from race like a black man runs from a cop." And last week, Princeton professor Cornel West blasted the president during a speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church. "Even with your foot on the brake, there are too many precious brothers and sisters under the bus," he said. "Where is the talk about poverty? We've got to protect him and respect him, but we've also got to correct him if the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. is going to stay alive."
Traditionally black leaders have been reluctant to criticize one of their own in public, but that reticence is wearing off. "Obviously some issues in the community are getting worse, and the African-American leaders of the country can't just give the current president a pass," says Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile. "They have to be vocal about what is and isn't being done."
To stem the criticism, NBA legend Magic Johnson plans to meet with Obama in Washington, D.C., this week to suggest the president appoint a high-profile liaison between the White House and the black and Latino communities—a minority czar, of sorts. "The next 12 months will really be the test for him," Johnson tells NEWSWEEK. "I think we in the community will really have to begin to see the changes needed to get us back on track in 2010." Among the issues Johnson wants Obama to address: the growing number of unemployed black men; the continued practice of big banks refusing to lend money to minority businesses; and the rise in HIV and AIDS in the black and Latino communities. Johnson plans to nominate himself for the job: "And if he wants someone else, that's fine, too. But the sooner the better."
It's impossible for Obama to meet all of his supporters' expectations. For example, although he's won praise for his handling of the Haiti crisis, some are now calling for him to visit the devastated nation. "He needs to see firsthand the devastation and heartbreak," says Brazile. (A White House spokesperson did not return calls requesting comment.) So far Johnson has urged supporters to be patient. "But when people are suffering and struggling to survive," he says, "patience can be hard to come by."