Obama’s New Second-Term Swagger

Published by Andre Showell on Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm.

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

By Andre Showell

It’s perhaps one of the most overused words ever to enter the American English vernacular: swagger. And more times than not, the word is used inappropriately. But if you had the chance to see President Obama’s first post-election White House news conference, you were seeing the word “swagger” exemplified.

It had very little to do with the way he walked or talked or his style of dress.  The president’s swag during his first second-term presser was a testament to what appears to be a new attitude. He seemed to shrug off his excessively polite, methodical, careful demeanor for a more opinionated, forceful and at times abrupt manner.

No example showed off the president’s swag more than his approach to one question about whether he would deter from nominating U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to the Secretary of State post amid Republican threats to block her nomination because of her handling of the recent attacks in Benghazi.

The president was sure-footed and resolute in his defense of Rice saying, “Let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work.  She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace.”

Critics had questioned whether a White House with such a reputation for putting only the most drama-free candidates before Congress would stand by Rice now that she finds herself in the hot seat.

But the most swagger-filled moment came shortly after President Obama’s defense of Rice when he gave the following retort: “As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her. If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. Ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”

I, for one, was pretty amazed that the president would stare Congress in the face, gangster-style and dare them to come after him. In so many words, he said he’d take a bullet if he had to so that a trusted appointee would not have to take the fall.

Is this a new President Obama? Without fear of making a re-election snafu, has he found his new stride? And is he emboldened to be more declarative and get a little gangsta now that he has received a new mandate to govern? If his performance in his first press conference is any indication of how he will proceed during the second term, we could be seeing a new side of President Obama, one defined by a new, yet fitting incarnation of the word “swagger.”

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“Do Black Republicans Threaten or Strengthen the CBC?”

Published by Andre Showell on Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 6:49 pm.

(Photo: Courtesy of the CBC)

Our Director of News, Deborah Creighton Skinner sent me an article recently that caused me to take a second look.  The headline which read: “The Late Great Congressional Black Caucus” was alarming enough to get my attention.

For the past few months, I’ve been conducting intimate, sit-down interviews with members of the Congressional Black Caucus for an upcoming BET.com feature called, “Congressional Confidential,”  and it has given me an acute awareness of the CBC’s value and the role its members have played in raising the temperature of an often tepid body of lawmakers.

For this reason, the prospect of seeing a possible end to the CBC was disturbing to me so I read further.  The article is actually a commentary about the potential inclusion of three Black Republicans to the CBC’s membership ranks.  The article asserts that should the CBC include the viewpoints of right-wing conservatives, somehow its purpose is diminished and it’s standing as the “conscience of the Congress” is jeopardized.

My question is, how can the CBC be weakened if the overwhelmingly progressive, liberal body includes more diversity in its membership?  African-Americans are not monolithic. Although a vast majority of Blacks align with the Democratic Party, a sizable segment has found a home with the GOP.  The inclusion of Republicans within the CBC would not only be more reflective of a group of people it prides its self in representing, it would also be strengthened in the process.

The fear of an opposing viewpoint is just pointless.  If “progress” is truly the root of the progressive movement, then there is no need to be afraid of ideological stances that don’t exactly sing from the same songbook. To alienate Republican members of Congress is miss out on an opportunity to expand, and to influence others.  So when it comes, to embracing Republicans within the CBC, I say, the more the merrier.

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Political Conventions:Why Should We Care?

Published by Andre Showell on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 2:23 pm.

(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

By Andre Showell

When it comes to political conventions, the term “party” has more than one meaning. Democrats and Republicans pull out all the stops to formally endorse their presidential nominee in a spectacular show of party unity, but do they still hold the same significance as they used to years ago?

“Historically, things tended not to be as certain in terms of the individual. Today, many of the decisions about the two parties are known before the conventions ever begin, but conventions are still the place where party platforms are developed,” says political scientist Wilmer Leon, Ph.D.

Gary Flowers, president of The Black Leadership Forum, believes conventions can help to inform our opinions about a candidate and the policies they propose. “In other words, what are the policy platforms that that party espouses that it would like to see made into law? Secondly, what are the interests and the rules around how candidates get elected? And lastly what is the tone that the candidate wants to set for American politics?”

Conventions are historic, and African-Americans have, at times, made a huge impact. From the Democratic National Convention of 1964 that featured activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who challenged Mississippi’s all-White delegation, to Rev. Jesse Jackson’s rousing address to the nation during his 1984 presidential run, Blacks have made their presence known at the conventions.

Experts advise that you pay attention to the line-up of speakers because they provide a good indication of the party’s political stars of the future.  “Current President Obama was the keynote speaker in 2004, when many Americans had not heard his name before, but after his speech they knew that there was a rising star,” said Flowers.

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Differences Become Clearer in the Presidential Race

Published by Andre Showell on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 7:58 am.

(Photos from left: Kristoffer Tripplaar-Pool/Getty Images, Edward Linsmier/Getty Images)

By Andre Showell

Recent moves by both President Obama and Republican hopeful Mitt Romney are making the distinctions between the two candidates crystal clear. In what seems to be an effort to appeal to their base constituents, the campaigns are intensifying efforts to clarify exactly where their candidates stand. Are they liberal or conservative?

Mitt Romney’s announcement that Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan is his pick for vice president was aimed at showing Romney in a different, perhaps brighter, GOP light. The former Massachusetts governor was widely believed to be a moderate in a climate that has forced many elected officials to hop the fence and pick a side. The selection of Paul Ryan, a fiscal conservative bar none, may help to put questions about Romney’s conservative chops to bed.

Obama, amid criticism about his own liberal street cred as it relates to same-sex marriage, gave a televised interview clarifying his position of support. He had expressed his opposition to the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy and strengthened hate crimes legislation within the Department of Justice in the past, but he felt the need to dispel any doubts about exactly where his own opinions lie in regard to same sex marriage.

As we march toward Nov. 6, I wonder if this is only the start of attempts to draw distinctions between the candidates in a race that seems to be providing voters with clearer choices.

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Political Gaffes Uncovered

Published by Andre Showell on Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 6:42 pm.

(Photo: Carsten Koall/Getty Images)

By Andre Showell

There’s been a lot of talk about political gaffes this election season and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is bearing the brunt of the criticism. During his international tour, he has taken a number of hits as he dips into the sometimes turbulent waters of diplomacy as a viable contender in the upcoming race to be beat President Barack Obama. But are his remarks truly gaffes, or just truths that are best left unspoken?

First, there was Romney’s statement about the Olympics which sent shockwaves throughout Europe. Romney reportedly said in passing that he believed that London may not have been ready to host the Olympics from a security standpoint. The British press took immediate offense, deeming Romney to be: “Mitt the Twit.”

Romney also came under attack after infuriating critics when he attributed the economic disparity between Israel and Palestine to differences in “culture.” They wrote off the comments as insensitive and offensive.

There are plenty of questions surrounding whether his remarks were actually gaffes, or simply misguided statements. The British media had been debating Great Britain’s Olympic readiness for weeks before Romney’s statements.  And cultural differences between the Israelis and Palestinians are both widely known and agreed upon even by the Israelis and the Palestinians.

And while Romney may have provided his opponents with plenty of ammunition to question his diplomatic readiness, I can’t say that there are lots of people who are questioning the truthfulness of his statements.

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Will the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans Matter?

Published by Andre Showell on Friday, July 27, 2012 at 5:45 pm.

(Photo: Commercial Appeal/Landov)

By Andre Showell

An executive order aimed at improving outcomes and advancing educational opportunities for African-Americans sounds like a great idea at first glance, but will the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans really make a difference in eliminating the education gap between Blacks and other groups?

The White House asserts that improving education outcomes for African-Americans will provide substantial benefits for the country and potentially increase college completion and employment rates.

But, according to President Obama during his address before an audience at the National Urban League’s convention in New Orleans this week, success comes with a price. He said, “Of course, that means all of you all have got to hit the books. America says we will give you opportunity, but you’ve got to earn your success.”

But the White House has already established similar initiatives for Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Hispanics and Native Americans. Why has one only now been established for African-Americans who have, for generations, lagged behind other groups in school? And what has been the concrete measure of success for those other White House initiatives?

The Congressional Black Caucus’ chair Emanuel Cleaver, II released a statement regarding the executive order saying, “The President has made providing a complete and high-caliber education for all Americans a top priority, and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans is a critical component to ensuring that all students have equal access to quality education.”

I’m sure the African-American achievement gap is important to this administration, but the timing, just a few months before an all-important election that will hinge on Black voters, is worth noting.

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Presidential Candidates Resist the Urge to Politicize Colorado Massacre

Published by Andre Showell on Monday, July 23, 2012 at 9:19 am.

(Photos from left: AP Photo/Evan Vucci, REUTERS /KEVIN LAMARQUE /LANDOV)

By Andre Showell

Very often, in covering politics, we can almost predict the behavior of the candidates. But every now and then, even the most experienced journos encounter something that causes us a healthy degree of surprise.  I was prepared for partisan rancor after we were alerted that President Obama and former  Gov. Mitt Romney would be making dueling statements today following the massacre in Colorado that left at least 12 dead and dozens more injured in a nonsensical killing spree in an Aurora movie theater.

Friday night, James Holmes, opened fire in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater at Friday’s midnight showing of the final film in the Batman movie, The Dark Knight Riseskilling at least 12 people and wounding 58. Holmes also booby-trapped his home.

I was already braced for each candidate to take full advantage of the heightened attention and guaranteed free TV time to posture and to position themselves in a race to appear more “presidential.” But that was just not the case and it appears that decorum and tact prevailed, at least for today.

First, the president made a last-minute change in his hectic schedule to address the tragedy that has stopped communities across the globe dead in its tracks. He spoke in Fort Myers, Florida, calling for the country to band together and recognize the fragility of life.  He said “Our time here is limited and it is precious.  And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it’s not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives.”

There was no mention of the need to enforce gun laws or to use the moment as a time to reinforce even tougher restrictions.  And there was not even a peep about Romney or Republican-backed measures that would ease gun access in the country.

Romney appealed to his audience, not as a White House candidate, but as a father. He said to his audience in New Hampshire, “Each one of us will hold our kids a little closer.” He said, “I stand before you today not as a man running for office, but as a father and grandfather, a husband, an American.”

And while the bitter battle for the White House is still lurking in the wings, at least for this Friday, the rivals are in agreement in their move to bring the nation together under one umbrella as Americans.

The president said something that I believe sums up the sentiment for the day.  He said, “I am so moved by your support.  But there are going to be other days for politics.  This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection.”

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What’s the Lesson If Obama Loses the Election?

Published by Andre Showell on Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 8:51 pm.

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

By many accounts, the polling data pitches the upcoming presidential lesson as too close to call to declare a definitive front-runner. The country is so narrowly divided that there is no discernible way to know who the likely victor will be. In the African American community, President Barack Obama continues to enjoy a sizeable if not, mammoth lead over his republican rival, Gov. Mitt Romney.

No doubt many of those in our largely African-American audience will be consumed with coverage about what it will take for President Obama to win the White House. But I wonder, if the polls are reflective of a truly tight race, what lessons can be learned if the election goes to Obama’s opponent. What is the lesson? What can be learned?

If Obama loses, I guess the first lesson is that it is lonely at the top and the tide can quickly turn. Just four years ago, the president was considered to be the media darling, the “rock star of the Senate.” Fast forward to 2012 and the president now faces an electorate that is noticeably more critical and vocally skeptical.

Another lesson is that “changing Washington” may be easier to say than it is to do. The Obama campaign’s “change” mantra piqued the idealistic leanings of the youth vote and the hopeful aspirations of Obama’s under-served supporters. But one thing the Obama administration soon found out when it came to White House is that the Washington machine is just that, a machine. This machine serves a purpose and while it can be upgraded or serviced, dismantling it, without an alternative, is simply not an option. If the engine doesn’t work, the car won’t move.

A third lesson to be learned in the event of an Obama loss, is tied to communicating with the American people. It’s not enough to believe that the people will intrinsically know a president’s intent. You have to tell them. Policy talk makes people tune out. But a political narrative that relates to voters’ lives, makes their ears perk up. Even the president admitted to learning this lesson recently during a CBS News interview. He said, “The mistake of my first term — couple of years — was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”

So until there is a clear and decisive front-runner, it is not a bad idea to think about what’s next; to consider each moment, whether victory or defeat, as a moment to take note, grow and hopefully make life better in the process.

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“Voting Is Black America’s Silver Lining”

Published by Andre Showell on Monday, July 16, 2012 at 6:39 pm.

(Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)

By Andre Showell

Think about this question and try to come with an honest answer: Do you believe that, as a race, African-Americans vote at the same rate as their white counterparts? I asked that question in the barbershop recently and just let people explain the reasons behind their answers. Overwhelmingly, the pool of African-Americans from different age and socioeconomic groups had the same answer: As a whole, they believed that we vote at significantly lower rates than our white counterparts.

Interestingly enough, they were wrong. Amid the tide of grim, and often downright discouraging, statistics we hear about the state of Black America, the one area we tend to do pretty well in is in voting and political engagement. According to the Pew Center for Research, in 2008 65.3% of eligible blacks voted, nearly equal to the 66.1% of eligible whites who voted. And in some sub-groups, African-Americans actually out-voted whites.

And the historic surge in the number of young people who came to the polls in 2008 is largely attributed to the increase in young black voters who turned out for President Barack Obama. In fact, while African-Americans make up nearly 13 percent of the population, they comprised nearly 18 percent of young voters.

I completely understand why this fact is not widely known, because as a community, African-Americans don’t fall into many of the categories that would make one more likely to vote. For example, people with higher incomes and education levels who don’t live in the Southern part of the country tend to be more likely to vote.  However, in the Black community, we make less, have less education and tend to live in the South in large numbers. Also add to this the large number of Black felons who may not be able to vote or who are less likely to exercise their right to politically engage.

The fact of the matter is that, despite all of these barriers and obstacles that would stand in their way, Black people are voting. And, while there is still room for improvement, it’s time for us to be proud that we are performing our civic duty. Now, with so much at stake in the upcoming presidential election, is no time to rest on our laurels. We need to maintain the groundwork that has already been laid and turn up at the polls!

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If Republican Governors Won’t Budge on Obamacare, Do They Have a Choice?

Published by Andre Showell on Friday, June 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm.

(Photo: EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS /LANDOV)

By Andre Showell

Despite the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that let stand the core provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the contentious fighting and partisan rancor is showing no signs of stopping now. Almost immediately following the ruling, conservatives dispatched a cadre of surrogates consisting of governors from red states, all singing from the same political songbook. They appear resolute in their conviction that the Affordable Care Act is bad policy and they will do all they can to nullify its effectiveness.

Oklahoma’s Attorney General Scott Pruitt also took part in the red state upheaval that followed the ruling. He issued a statement on behalf of the Republican Attorneys General Association that delivered an ominous warning: “We’re disappointed the Court upheld the individual mandate, and find it disturbing that they did not place a limit on the power of the federal government to control the lives of Americans. But, the battle isn’t over.”

In a brazen act of defiance to the decision of the highest court in the land, anti-Obamacare die-hard Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) suggests that the health-care law is destructive, unsustainable and unconstitutional. His office sent out a press statement urging governors not to put the health-care law into effect. The press release reads: “I urge every governor to stop implementing health-care exchanges that would help implement the harmful effects of this misguided law. Americans have loudly rejected this federal takeover of health care, and governors should join with the people and reject its implementation.”

The issue brings attention to what could amount to a loophole that Obamacare opponents can use to their advantage. There is apparently no punishment process in place that would compel states to actually move forward with implementation if they choose not do so. But on the other hand, if states chose to simply do nothing, the federal government still has the authority to step in and take over.

The idea of enacting the Affordable Care Act sounds like a simple idea on the surface. But the multitude of requirements and provisions may give states that disagree with the law legal cover that could mean more challenges and courtroom battles in the future.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told Fox News, “We’ll look to the fall and if there’s a new president, and a new Senate that’s part of a Congress that’s willing to change that, the next step is just political.”

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