Does Obama have to be better because he’s black?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 2/17/2009, 7:41 a.m.

There was also Obama’s backward stretch to keep race out of the campaign. The only time he truly dealt with the race issue was to tamp down public unease over the inflammatory tirades of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Despite the wealth of items on the plus side of Obama’s political ledger, a majority of whites — and that included a narrow percentage of young whites — did not vote for him.

But the presidential campaign is now a fast-fading memory, and for most Americans, whether they backed Obama or not, the major concern is: Can his policies work?

Now, that doesn’t mean that racial stereotypes, open or closeted, have magically vanished. But Obama is in the embryonic stage of his presidency, and few are willing to say anything about his style or program that can be remotely seen as having a hidden racial animus; it would simply be politically incorrect and crass to imply that Obama is not up to the weighty task of governance. Even hard-bitten conservative pundit William Bennett publicly, if lightly, rapped talk show kingpin Rush Limbaugh on the knuckles for ostensibly saying that he wants Obama to fail by disagreeing with fellow conservatives that say they hope the president succeeds.

The true test, though, will come when Obama stumbles (or appears to stumble) on a foreign policy or domestic issue, or if he takes a stance that angers his opponents. He’ll be lambasted for that; all presidents are. Criticism is a part of the job. Presidents know that, expect that and should even welcome constructive criticism. The difference is, America has never had a black president who has had to bear the brunt of criticism for missteps or blunders. Obama is the first.

Some critiques will be leveled based solely on whether or not the president’s policies and decision-making help advance the public interest. Others will come with a sneaky racial motive. Obama, sadly, will have to deal with both.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a syndicated columnist, author and political analyst.