The president hopes to fuel minority turnout by stoking anger, fear and resentment.
President Obama sounds rather annoyed at blacks who aren’t panting for a Hillary Clinton presidency. In a stem-winder delivered to the Congressional Black Caucus on Saturday, Mr. Obama said he would consider it a “personal insult” if blacks didn’t back Mrs. Clinton in November and thus preserve his legacy. “My name might not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot,” he insisted.
This wasn’t the first time the president has used a Congressional Black Caucus forum to scold black people for insufficient appreciation of his leadership. In 2011, after black lawmakers began criticizing the president’s lack of attention to the economic problems of the underclass, he told the group, “I expect all of you to march with me and press on,” adding that they should “stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying.” Some black commentators took umbrage at his tone.
“Funny, isn’t it, how Obama always gets the nerve to say shut up when he’s addressing a friendly audience?” wrote the Washington Post’s Courtland Milloy. “The unemployment rate among blacks stands at 16.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, up from 11.5 percent when Obama took office. By some accounts, black people have lost more wealth since the recession began than at any time since slavery. And Obama gets to lecture us?”
Five years later, the lectures continue while progress in the Obama era remains elusive to many blacks, which might explain the lack of black enthusiasm for a Democratic successor. By almost any traditional metric—homeownership, median incomes, labor participation, poverty—blacks are worse off today than they were at the start of Mr. Obama’s first term. The jobless rate for blacks has improved since 2009, but it’s improved even more for whites, which means the racial gap in unemployment has gotten wider.
Mr. Obama won 95% of the black vote in 2008 and 93% in 2012, election years that also saw record black turnout. Mrs. Clinton was never destined to duplicate that performance, but she’s struggling more than she thought she would with certain voting blocs. The black primary voters who powered her to the nomination over Bernie Sanders tended to be older. Mrs. Clinton, perhaps overconfident, spent much of the summer courting moderate Republicans instead of shoring up younger blacks who are more skeptical of establishment politicians and more likely to view third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein as viable alternatives.
There is little doubt that the former secretary of state will win a much larger percentage of the black vote than Donald Trump. What’s unknown is the total number of blacks who will show up at the polls without Barack Obama being on the ballot. Because the president’s economic record is so unimpressive, he’s relying on what Democrats have long relied on to fuel minority turnout: anger, fear, resentment and racial paranoia.
In his Saturday address, the president touted efforts to reduce the “mass incarceration” of blacks today, which he suggested stems from a racist criminal justice system rather than from disproportionately high black crime rates. And he voiced support for “ban the box” measures that prevent employers from asking job applicants about their criminal past, even though economic studies repeatedly have shown that these policies harm the job prospects of less skilled young black men. These are the kinds of issues that may excite the Democratic base but don’t necessarily benefit struggling black communities.
Mr. Obama also told his audience that Republicans are disenfranchising blacks by promoting voter ID laws, which he likened to having to “count bubbles in a bar of soap” during Jim Crow. In fact, a Gallup Poll published last month found that 95% of Republicans, 83% of independents and 63% of Democrats support a photo ID requirement for voting. So do 81% of whites and 77% of non-whites. Moreover, given that the black voter turnout rate in 2012 exceeded white turnout—including in those states with the strictest voter ID requirements—the GOP seems to be doing a very poor job of suppressing the black vote, if that is the objective.
The Democrats can’t run on the president’s track record with blacks, but what they do have going for them is an opponent in Donald Trump who may be the only politician in the country more unpopular than Hillary Clinton and by all indications eager to remain so. Mr. Trump’s recent return to the birther fever swamps is another signal that he is not merely uninterested in the black vote but may be hostile to it. Right now, Mr. Trump is more indispensable to Mrs. Clinton’s black outreach effort than the president.
Mr. Riley, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and Journal contributor, is the author of “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed” (Encounter Books, 2014).