Percentage thinking the US has fulfilled MLK Jr.’s vision drops to pre-Obama election levels

When Barack Obama was running for President in April of 2008, slightly more than a third of the adults in the US thought that the vision of Martin Luther King Jr. as outlined in his “I Have a Dream” speech, had been fulfilled.  Just before Obama was sworn in as President in January of 2009, the perception that the King vision had already been fulfilled had swelled to nearly half of all adults in the US.  Perceptions of African Americans improved dramatically during this period increasing 30 points to 65% between April 2008 and January 2009.

But now, according to a recent Washington Post poll (August 2011), the election time gains have been entirely wiped out and people today are substantially less likely than at inauguration time, to perceive that the vision of Dr. King has been fulfilled.  In fact, the current percentage of African American reporting fulfillment has dropped back to its pre-Obama election level. Disappointingly, the decline among whites is even greater, with fewer whites today than pre-Obama election time (April 2008), considering the MLK vision fulfilled.

It is important to keep in mind how the question is asked in these polls:
"Martin Luther King gave his famous 'I Have a Dream Speech' at a civil rights march in Washington in 1963.  In your view, do you think the United States has fulfilled the vision King outlined in that speech, or don't you think so?:"  

The question essentially asks people to indicate their perception of vision fulfillment by responding either “fulfilled” or “not fulfilled.” It neglects to check whether people answering the question had an accurate understanding of the vision outlined within the “dream“ speech.  However, we know that peoples’ perceptions of reality, regardless of their factual knowledge, does matter (especially in election years) and are related to public sentiment. 

Optimism that the vision will eventually be fulfilled has also deteriorated—especially among African Americans.  A follow-up question in each of the polls conducted by CNN and now the Washington Post, asks people who did not believe that the vision had already been fulfilled, to indicate whether or not they thought it eventually would be attained. 

It is disheartening to see that adults in general are less optimistic today  than in April 2008 (avg. 15% less).   Furthermore, optimism among African-Americans, which had grown to 84% as inauguration time approached, dropped precipitously to 48% by the 2011 poll, - far below the 63% level reported in the pre-Obama election poll of 2008.  
One might wonder what is going on here?  Were the observed inauguration time increases in perception and optimism about King’s vision fulfillment simply artificial and spurious or were they real but perhaps ephemeral?   One may argue that the increases were artificial and merely an artifact produced by the overall raised level of expectations and “hope” associated with the Obama campaign and its messaging.

On the other hand, as Michael Fallig, Ph.D., SVP GfK CRNA has suggested: “It could also argue that the actual election results provided sufficient evidence to raise peoples’ perception and optimism about fulfilling Dr. King’s vision of better racial relations.  But events and policy decisions that took place after the election were more powerful factors that led people to reassess and change their earlier perceptions and optimism about the US having the capacity to fulfill the vision. 

Until evidence suggests otherwise, let us assume that the election of Barack Obama did have a positive and real impact on peoples’ perception and optimism about Dr. King’s vision.  However, let us also assume that events and/or policy decisions that took place post-election altered or moderated peoples’ perceptions as well as the relative strength of the election’s impact on perceptions and optimism about equality. 

Think about the events that might have more impact than the election: The tanking economy, home foreclosures in the news - hitting some communities harder than others, the nasty and confrontational debate over healthcare -- that appeared to have overtones of racism, the country’s continued high unemployment rate – punctuated by the increased disparity in African American vs. white joblessness, the negative feelings about the leadership role of the US – highlighted by our mediocre to poor global math and science rankings and stories in the news about the lack of support for public education funding and for unions that have their share of African American members.  The above might all be powerful contributors to the reduction in perception and optimism about the vision of racial equality espoused by Dr. King in his unforgettable speech.

A third argument could also be made: One might say that the policies of the President and this administration or the lack of success that the administration has had with moving forward with his grand agenda, has led people to call into question the capacity of the President and his policies to move the US forward.  If his policies are stalling, if there is no improvement in joblessness as an example, it is entirely possible that despite the positive role that his election has played in the perception that racial relations have moved forward, these lack of successes signal a stalling of progress and may reduce peoples’ perceptions and optimism that that Dr. King’s vision about racial relations in the US is attainable.

For the Nation, and for Obama, A Moment to Savor

As Nicholas Kristof notes in the New York Times, the nation's paper of record, writes in his op-ed this morning, "despite the foreign policy triumph for the United States, it isn’t the end of terrorism." Already Taliban leaders are vowing to avenge Osama bin Laden and no doubt his death does not change the fundamental situation on the ground in Afghanistan though for Pakistan hard questions must be asked.

How did the world's most wanted man live in a luxury compound in the hill resort town of Abbottabad just a 62 mile drive (35 miles as the crow flies) from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad? Moreover, the compound built in 2005 was just a stone's throw from the major Pakistani military training school. Most tellingly, the Pakistani government was not informed beforehand of the US special forces' raid. This inability to trust even the highest echelons of Pakistan's civilian-military-intelligence establishment is, in my view, the single most disturbing takeaway from this incident. It portends hard choices.

Still, it is clear that from the start President Obama and his national security team took a focused, hands-on pursuit of Osama bin Laden and a measured, cautious approach with our erstwhile ally Pakistan. US-Pakistani relations have been rocky, perhaps not yet even at a nadir, for most of the Obama Administration. The fault may not entirely lie with the Pakistanis but it is evident as the Wikileaks cables suggest that Pakistan's ISI is a rogue filled cancerous organization not to be trusted. The realists in the Obama Administration fully understand this and act accordingly. The Administration, from the President on down, may deliberate incessantly as seen from the outside but their approach is diligent, measured, effective if painstakingly time consuming. This is a results oriented Administration.

John Dickerson over at Slate points to the not so obvious but increasingly evident:

Obama's critics have said that he is a weak leader in general and in particular does not understand what must be done to combat terrorism. " They are very much giving up that center of attention and focus that's required," said former Vice President Dick Cheney in March 2009, in a typical remark. Yet what emerges from the details of Bin Laden's killing (offered, like the heroic accounts of the Bush years, entirely by officials who work for the sitting president) is that from early in his administration Obama was focused on killing Osama Bin Laden and that he was involved in the process throughout.

In June 2009, Obama directed his CIA director to "provide me within 30 days a detailed operation plan for locating and bringing to justice" Osama Bin Laden. By August 2010 intelligence officials had identified the suspicious compound where Osama lived. Thirty-five miles outside Islamabad, the walls were up to 18 feet high and topped with barbed wire. The largest structure, a three-story building, had very few windows. Though the house was valued at $1 million, it had no Internet or phone service. Its residents, unlike their neighbors, burned their trash.

As he has so often been in the past, Dick "they will welcome us as liberators" and "last throes" Cheney was wrong. We may not see what's going on in the battle against terrorism but this success suggests a diligence and a laser-like focus by the Administration. It again speaks to the competence of the President himself. It is a moment to savor for Barack Obama, and for the nation, though I am sure that for him and his national security team, their focus remains on what is yet to be done, not what has been accomplished.

Osama bin Laden is Dead

Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born head of the Islamist terror group Al Qaeda, is dead and his body is in custody of US intelligence officials in Pakistan. The news is breaking at this hour with details scarce. Early reports from the Associated Press indicate that bin Laden was killed in a ground operation, not in a drone attack, in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, just 100 km, or 60 miles, north of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. The President is set to address the nation with crowds gathering outside the White House in a patriotic fervor singing the Star Spangled Banner in celebration.

Geopolitically, the picture isn't likely to change much but politically for the President this is a major accomplishment for President Obama and his national security team. At the very least this should provide a lift in his poll numbers and perhaps some validation of his Afghan war strategy.

The story in the New York Times.


Long Overdue

Via the Washington Post:

"President Obama will hit the road this week and forcibly deliver his message that a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes on the rich is necessary to rein in the nation's rocketing debt — a high-stakes effort to rally public support ahead of a series of contentious budget battles in Congress."

Our Commander-in-Chief should be a visionary-in-chief. Just last Monday, I bemoaned that "never has the bully pulpit of the Presidency been so more profoundly wasted than on Barack Obama." There is no question that this is a competent Administration and the President himself thoughtful, intensely analytical and intelligent. But when it comes to articulating where he want to take the country, the President has all too often been missing in action.

It is a welcome news that the President is taking his message out across the country.

The Candid Obama

Via CBS News:

In what he thought was a private chat with campaign donors Thursday evening, President Obama offered the most revealing behind-the-scenes account to date of his budget negotiations with GOP leaders last week.

CBS Radio News White House correspondent Mark Knoller listened in to an audio feed of Mr. Obama's conversation with donors after other reporters traveling with the president had left the room.

In the candid remarks, Mr. Obama complains of Republican attempts to attach measures to the budget bill which would have effectively killed parts of his hard-won health care reform program.

"I said, 'You want to repeal health care? Go at it. We'll have that debate. You're not going to be able to do that by nickel-and-diming me in the budget. You think we're stupid?'" recalled the president of his closed-door negotiations on the bill to fund the federal government until September. 

Mr. Obama said he told House Speaker John Boehner and members of his staff that he'd spent a year and a half getting the sweeping health care legislation passed -- paying "significant political costs" along the way -- and wouldn't let them undo it in a six-month spending bill.

"When Paul Ryan says his priority is to make sure, he's just being America's accountant ... This is the same guy that voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my health care bill -- but wasn't paid for," Mr. Obama told his supporters. "So it's not on the level."

We would all be better served if President Obama were this candid more often and not reserve such insights for those who can afford tens of thousands of dollars for a dinner with the President. No doubt, it is, nonetheless, very refreshing to hear what the President really thinks.


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