At the two stops they made in the heart of Chicago’s black community over the weekend, the men and women fell into two camps: those who think Obama needs the push and those who see it as piling on.
Jackson, a 26-year-old single mother who recently found a hospital housekeeping job after nearly a year of unemployment, said, “They are not really giving him a chance.”
“Things are going to get done, but it is also going to take some time,” she said. “He is doing more than everybody else tried to do.”
Jackson’s views were reflected in a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll in which 86 percent of blacks expressed approval of the job Obama is doing, even as support for him has slipped among other groups. But the view is nuanced: Among blacks, approval of the president’s economic policies has weakened, with only 54 percent saying the policies have made the economy better compared with 77 percent in October.
Lamont Robinson, a 29-year-old insurance agent, falls in line with that group. Robinson was part of a packed house at St. Sabina Catholic Church on the South Side that turned out Sunday night for a town hall held by Smiley and West. “There’s no change going on,” Robinson said. “So what can we do? I’m frustrated with the president. We know there is money for wars, but our people are suffering. He is disconnected from what is going on in his home town.”
During the meeting, Robinson applauded when Smiley shouted: “Say the word ‘poor,’ Mr. President. We want to hear you say it!”
And Robinson stood in support when West questioned Obama’s commitment to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., saying, “Me and Tavis, we’re going to remind you who Martin really was.”
More than a year ago Smiley and West went rogue on Obama, fomenting bitter, public fights with allies of the president that have resulted in name-calling and shouting matches. The two men, who are best friends and have long been concerned with the state of blacks in America, described the tour — which is not solely focused on blacks — as an attempt to force the White House and Congress to pay more attention the poor.
Obama has said repeatedly that he is focused on putting Americans back to work. He will launch his own bus tour next week— a three-day haul through the Midwest that will focus on jobs. White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that Obama “looks forward to talking to the folks about growing the economy, creating jobs.”