William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.
If I were black, I would have voted for Barack Obama for president -- twice.
I wouldn't care what party he was in, where he went to church, or whether he needed a teleprompter to give a good speech. If my ancestors had come here in shackles; if my parents had been forced to eat "out back;" if my children had a greater chance of ending up in prison than in a "C suite" job, I'd have sprinted to my polling place to help put an African-American in the White House. The symbolism of an Obama presidency would have been too powerful to resist, just as John F. Kennedy's candidacy was for so many Irish Catholics a generation ago.
But five years after President Obama broke what was believed to be an impenetrable color barrier in this country, it is impossible not to ask: What, besides symbolism, has the first African-American president delivered to black America?
The answer, to mix cultural slangs, is pretty much bupkis.
Don't take it from me: Listen to the criticism emanating from leaders in the black community.
Listen to Philadelphia Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, senior pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church, who penned a piece this spring called, "A President for Everyone, Except Black People." Listen to radical Harvard-turned-Princeton professor Cornel West charge in a radio interview this week that "black folks" have been pushed to the back of the bus, under President Obama, and "our gay brothers and lesbian sisters more and more pushed to the center." Read the recent letter signed by six prominent African-American professors in the Orlando Sentinel: "As leading intellectuals from the same generation, we are disappointed by Obama's record on race and poverty."
Everywhere you turn these days, there is some leader in the African-American community complaining that Barack Obama has let black America down, after he was given 96 and 94 percent of the black vote in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
The newest grumblings are over the immigration reform bill that would add millions of legal Hispanic workers to the American workforce at a time when black unemployment is at intolerable levels. More than half of male African-American high school dropouts are unemployed in this country today, and the overall black unemployment rate of 13.5% is almost double the national average. Gun crime is back on the rise and the achievement gap in schools is showing little or no evidence of improving. Most frustratingly, countless African-American families, who had clawed their way into the middle class over a period of decades, are now sliding back into poverty.
Who can blame black leaders for asking, What about us? When is it our turn?
This country has seen wave after wave of immigrants come to its shores and enrich themselves after a generation or two of relative poverty, whether they be German, Russian, Polish or Chinese. It will almost surely be the same for Latinos once immigration reform passes -- which it hopefully will -- and millions are allowed to emerge from the shadow economy.
Only African-Americans, who have been here longer than almost any of us, have been stuck as a permanent underclass in this country. When do they get their turn, indeed.
No one expects African-American voters -- who, in 2012, for the first time in history, surpassed white voters in turnout rate -- to abandon the Democratic Party en masse after President Obama's term is up. But it is hard to imagine how the monolithic voting can continue when no tangible results have been achieved by this historic presidency.
Maybe, post Obama, African-Americans will begin to seriously question whether they've been barking up the right tree with the Democratic Party and its patronizing attitude toward the black community. Maybe the lasting legacy of the Obama presidency is the painful realization that collectivism and government do not deliver advancement in this country, only a permanent place on the treadmill. If that's the case, the symbolism of Barack Obama's presidency will have been worth every vote.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.