- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2014

President Obama discounted November’s election results because turnout is lower in midterm than in presidential elections, but there is reason to believe that his treatment of his base contributed to the decision of many Democrats to not bother going to the polls in what everyone recognized as a crucial election. This was particularly true of minority voters who make up such an important part of the Democratic base, and it may explain his almost frenetic effort to reach these voters via targeted media interviews in the waning days of the campaign.

Since his election in 2008, Mr. Obama has enjoyed the support of minority voters, and their seemingly unquestioning loyalty has allowed him to virtually ignore their needs and the impact of his policies on the quality of their lives. As the first black president, he and his supporters knew they could count on black voters’ support in the way that Irish and Catholic voters supported John F. Kennedy during and after his election in 1960.

Both Kennedy and Mr. Obama played their support from their core voters for all it was worth. Kennedy was running in the crucial Wisconsin primary back in 1960 against Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota. The week before the election, virtually every Catholic voter in the state received a letter posted in Minneapolis urging them to vote for Humphrey because Kennedy was “an agent of the pope.” It was discovered later that the letter had been mailed not by the supposedly anti-Catholic Humphrey campaign but by Kennedy operatives who knew full well that the backlash would help their man.

In 2012, the symbolic power of the Obama presidency was demonstrated by the fact that for the first time ever, a higher percentage of blacks than whites voted. Democrats attributed this not only to Mr. Obama’s symbolic appeal, but also to the most sophisticated voter identification and get-out-the-vote campaign ever. In fact, the turnout was more a result of the understandable pride blacks felt at the American people’s election four years earlier and their willingness to do whatever was necessary to make sure he was re-elected.

Unlike Mr. Obama, Kennedy and his operatives knew that the card they played successfully once couldn’t be played again and again. They knew that to hold the loyalty borne of pride they would have to deliver what all the voters who elected Kennedy wanted: jobs, a vibrant economy and a revitalized American mission. Mr. Obama never understood this and, perhaps as a result, the voters who have suffered most as a direct result of his administration’s policies are those he thinks would vote for him and support his policies regardless.

Nov. 4 proved that assumption wrong. He and his party played the race card again. They claimed Republicans are racists who would, if they had a chance, “repeal the Emancipation Proclamation,” reinstitute slavery and lynch blacks almost as sport. They were saying, in effect, that though we Democrats haven’t been able to deliver much of anything, you owe us your support even if Mr. Obama isn’t on the ballot because we are all that stands between you and hell on earth. Like Chicken Little, they were warning black voters that the sky is falling or about to fall.

The evidence suggests that these crude appeals to fear have become little more than background noise among blacks who are living not in 19th- or even early-20th-century America, but in a 21st-century society that may be far from perfect but isn’t run by Klansmen. They haven’t become Republicans, but they know the election of Republicans is not the threat Democrats would have them believe.

They also know that while Mr. Obama’s economic policies might have rescued some big banks and helped Wall Street, they have delivered few, if any, jobs to their communities. In fact, in an economic sense, they were better off under the last Republican administration than they are today. Many of them know, too, that Mr. Obama’s effort to bring millions of low-skilled immigrants into the workforce is going to cost the poorest members of their communities the entry-level jobs needed to begin the climb up the economic ladder to the middle class.

Prince George’s County in Maryland is the highest-income majority black county in the country, but it includes numerous poor areas with high unemployment. Motorists traveling the county’s highways before the 2012 elections passed dozens of Obama campaign billboards proclaiming, “He has your back.” That was then, and black voters in the county turned out in record numbers as if to say, “And we’ve got yours.” This year, turnout was way down and Maryland elected a Republican governor. In part, one suspects, because the voters who delivered for Mr. Obama two years ago elected a president who hasn’t reciprocated.

David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.

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