West & Smiley Impact on Obama Voters: Real or Fleeting?

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Although Princeton professor Cornel West supported President Barack Obama in 2008, his recent criticism of the nation’s first Black president may be trouble for 2012. Radio personality Tavis Smiley has also joined in the Black chorus of public dissatisfaction of Obama.

It is unclear whether calling the president a “Black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs,” and publicly denouncing Obama's policies in a majority of recent interviews will hurt Obama’s election next year. But Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Obama’s former church in Chicago, said the intellectual’s remarks could increase African Americans’ trust of Congress.

“The negative discussion Dr. West is having can only put more apathy in the hearts of African-Americans and could ultimately cause them to lose more faith in the entire political process,” Moss told Newsweek. “Where will that leave us?”

Buddies West and Smiley have teamed to launch a two-week “Poverty Tour,” which will take the duo to different cities as they encourage the president to “wake up.” The purpose of the tour is supposed to be to help America refocus on the “least among us,” according to Newsweek.

But recently citizens have started to fight back. In Detroit, when the “Call to Conscience” bus pulled up in August, a group of people met the two outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center to protest.

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“We will not stand silent as Smiley and West criticize the man who brought us health-care reform, one of the greatest accomplishments for the poor in this country’s history,” a spokesperson for Detroiters for Better Government told Newsweek.

The West and Smiley approach may or may not have an impact on Black voters. Obama’s approval rate is slowly dwindling. In 2008, 96 percent of African Americans voted for Obama. In March, Black Entertainment Television (BET) conducted a poll, where 85 percent of people supported the president. But in a recent Washington Post/CBS poll, African American support dropped sharply—from 77 percent in October 2010 to nearly half of that this month, according to Newsweek.

Steve Harvey disagreed with the tour and said Smiley should let go of the grudge he had when Obama did not make it to his town hall meeting.

“You don't have any real basis behind your dislike for this man…you keep masking it saying it's not about hate. Then what is it about? Poverty existed before January 20, 2008. Where was your damn bus then?” Steve Harvey said, according to the St. Louis American.

He continued: “Who in the hell got 2-3 days for your [expletive]? I ain't got time to sit down with your monkey behind for two, three days, let alone the President of the United States. We got three wars going on, the economy crashing and we going to sit down with Tavis [expletive] for three days?”