From pride to disillusionment: a black leader sours on Obama

Robert Ehrlich on business advocate Harry Alford, who had high hopes for Obama but says the president is 'hurting my members'

March 17, 2013|Robert L. Ehrlich Jr

I can hear 'em now. "He's a good guy"; "He's a family man"; "He'll govern like a moderate"; "It will be so good for the country"; "He's post-partisan."

That the election of a mixed-race candidate for president sent positive messages about America around the world is without question; that the election occurred less than 50 years after the end of Jim Crow was stunning — and spoke volumes about how far we have progressed on race and politics.

Yet, the entire post-partisan narrative was quite a stretch (and silly to boot) in light of Barack Obama's reputation for aloofness and strongly ideological voting record in the Illinois legislature and U.S. Senate. But these and similar observations remained pervasive throughout Campaign 2008 (and, to a lesser extent, the recently concluded campaign of 2012).

The motivations behind such thoughts were (are) diverse, including activist progressives who saw an opportunity to elect one of their own, African-American racial pride, white guilt, and weariness with Republicans who spent like drunken sailors and presided over two shooting wars. That Senator Obama was intelligent, handsome, athletic and blessed with an equally attractive family did not hurt his cause one bit.

Such attributes led business leaders such as National Black Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Harry C. Alford to support the insurgent Obama campaign in 2008. It was an exciting time, as the neophyte junior senator from Illinois outdueled the preordained Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. And race trumped philosophy (albeit temporarily) in the eyes of the Harry Alfords of the world.

"I had hope because he was black. [But he's] hurting my members, my constituents. I had to back off. I had to represent my people."

Mr. Alford has witnessed five State of the Union addresses and as many congressional budget cycles. He has digested hundreds of presidential speeches and pronouncements. And he now sees how the Obama administration's tax hikes and oppressive regulatory approach are negatively impacting his members' bottom lines.

To be blunt, Harry Alford is mad, and he's not going to take it anymore. He's concluded what many of us suspected all along: Barack Obama's hyper-progressivism is bad for black business (and all other colors as well).

Obamanomics did not cost the president his job last November. But life for Mr. Alford's members has mostly gotten worse. The indictment reads as follows:

•A $5.8 trillion deficit in four years, a number that exceeds the total accumulated under all presidents from George Washington through Bill Clinton (that's 53 total terms);

•An Obama-era debt equal to about $50,000 per U.S. household;

•A $1.2 trillion stimulus still in search of all those "shovel ready" projects Joe Biden was so enthusiastic about;

•A U.S. labor force participation rate at its lowest level since 1981;

•A black unemployment rate hovering around 14 percent (black unemployment hit a 28-year high in 2012) and a black teenage unemployment rate in excess of 37 percent (43 percent for black teenage males);

•An anti-business National Labor Relations Board wholly owned and operated by organized labor;

•Two lock-step liberal appointments to the Supreme Court and 173 lower federal court appointments of similar philosophy;

•Dozens of new taxes (many within Obamacare and targeted to small business owners) worth in excess of $3 trillion;

•Demands that Congress increase the federal debt ceiling without any corresponding spending cuts;

•A Cabinet with few private-sector types but plenty of academics and public-sector careerists;

•And a predictable parade of straw men ("the rich," "greedy bankers," "Fox News," "Wall Street," "private equity investors," "the NRA") regularly trotted out and in turn castigated in a continuous barrage of class envy/warfare speeches that would make George Soros blush.

As for Mr. Alford, it's all about lessons learned. His personal story is an up-by-the-bootstraps tale of hard work and taking advantage of opportunities provided, including: a football scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, company commander (Army Officer Candidate School), executive positions at Fortune 100 companies, award-winning opinion columns, and appointment as a Cultural Ambassador to the U.S. State Department. His growing organization remains dedicated to "economically empowering and sustaining African American communities through entrepreneurship and capitalist activity." It is, however, a charter made far more difficult in light of the president's instinctive distrust of markets and predisposition toward government regulation.

So, next time he hears of a politician vowing to grow the economy through public-sector job creation or discussing the virtues of government-enforced redistribution of wealth, he'll no longer ignore it. Skin color notwithstanding.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around," a book about national politics. His email is ehrlichcolumn@gmail.com.

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