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As I begin this letter I would like to say to Dr. West that I have the utmost respect and admiration for you. I have been and continue to be a long time fan of your work, your intelligence, and passion to assist the community…especially the underserved. As president and CEO of The Optimum Institute of Economic Empowerment, much of my time is spent teaching in prisons, working with those recently released from prison, and in urban public housing teaching financial literacy (from June through September I will be in Detroit doing a series of financial literacy workshops directed at this demographic funded by Fifth Third Bank).

I have traveled from New York to Appalachia and to California because like you, I too have a passion for trying to empower the working poor and impoverished of this country. It is my belief that our country is developing an underclass of Americans who are continuously overlooked; I am sure you agree that this is a problem which must be addressed.

Mr. Smiley, I admire your work as well.  I was honored to be asked to write a section of your bestselling book “The Covenant in Action”. The fact that I was chosen to write in your book indicates that the work I am doing in urban communities is consistent with your vision of empowerment for the underserved in our communities. You represent a stable voice for many of us using your platform to discuss issues that plague this country …….issues that are not only Black American issues but  also  issues that concern all Americans.

To all the critical President Obama supporters…I understand your frustrations. I too was frustrated when Van Jones was ousted despite his positive work to create a green economy. I too was frustrated when Shirley Sherrod was “thrown under the bus” for a carefully edited video that misrepresented her remarks despite being a faithful/loyal employee.  ACORN? I had mixed feelings about this dilemma. Despite the good they have done in our communities, their indiscretions were targeted and emphasized. The treatment of our union brothers and sisters in Madison, Wisconsin and other union workers across the country have been targeted by a conservative movement that has opted to take away their collective bargaining rights ………….this makes me very angry!  While many progressives are speaking out on all of these issues, one has to wonder where is the President Obama voice in any of this? Where is the voice of the President for those union workers who put him in office? The silence is deafening.

As many Americans I can go on and on with my less than positive critiques of President Obama: The expansion of the war in Afghanistan and maintaining a military industrial complex that seems more concerned with making money for those who profit from war than keeping our troops safe and bringing them home; the neglect of a public option and the creation of a health care reform bill that  is essentially a gift to the health care companies; the creation of a financial regulatory reform bill that continues to allow big banks to continue their harmful practices that resulted in the collapse of this economy while at the same time having no penalties to those who stole taxpayer dollars in order to pay high bonuses to top level executives; and even the failure to end the tax cuts for the rich that were never paid for and were the FIRST tax cuts EVER provided by any President during a time of war for any party. These are all examples of actions that I have disagreed with and will continue to speak out about until they are corrected. I adamantly believe in holding our elected officials accountable for their actions just as you do.

However, I was driven to write this letter after sitting on a panel discussion which was introduced by Councilman Charles Barron of New York whom I also respect even though I don’t always agree with his positions. He spoke in his usual rhapsodizing manner which got the crowd really excited. He then began to talk about President Obama, a topic about which he exhibited a great deal of passion. He went on a 10 minute tirade about the President and all of his actions that he found disagreeable. In fact if one did not know our President and knew nothing of what he has done, one would have thought that President Obama was nothing but an Africa bombing, war mongering, dictator who could care less about life or Black people.

Dr. West…I have heard you many times on television, and on many occasions I have also heard you speak negatively about our President. If someone were to listen to you on any of those occasions one would also believe that the President has sold out to the banks (or oligarchs as you so often say) and could care less about the working poor or impoverished in our society.

Mr. Smiley…you as well are consistently stating your displeasure at the lack of specialized attention the President has given to the issues of the Black community.

Again…I do not disagree with analyzing the actions of our President and holding him accountable for these actions. I have done it and will continue to do it. However, I have a problem with bias and an inability to be completely objective particularly when your audience may be easily influenced. My problem arises when those “critical” supporters do nothing but criticize without taking an equal amount of time to discuss the positive actions our President has done for this country. Many people look upon you with a great deal of respect and admiration and because of this you have the capability to influence many people, some of whom do not listen to the radio talk shows or watch the political commentaries on TV. In many cases your dialogue represents the only source of objective guidance and analysis these people will experience. If your dialogue is biased and presents only what our President has not done, many will be denied the opportunity to formulate an educated or fair opinion. As highly respected role models you have a responsibility – an obligation – to present an unbiased account of what our President has done. If you feel there are those people who have done nothing but provide praise for our President with positive bias, the answer is not to provide nothing but critique with a negative bias to provide balance…the answer is to eliminate the bias and be objective, fair, and balanced showing ALL sides of his performance (good AND bad).

Yes…there are many things I did not like about the health care reform legislation, but I did like the fact that it was the largest and most sweeping reform in this system in a lifetime and was a tremendous step in the right direction. Pre-existing conditions…gone; lifetime caps on coverage…gone; shrinking the pool of coverage to more who didn’t have access…gone; and many other components that were accomplished that WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED UNDER MCCAIN OR ANY OTHER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT! This was a great step in the right direction. Not only will it expand coverage to 31 million who did not have coverage before, it will also reduce the deficit by over $2 trillion over the next two decades (it is often called the biggest domestic achievement since 1965 DESPITE all its imperfections).

Yes…financial regulatory reform didn’t go as far as I would have liked, but it was another great step in the right direction. Nor did I like the expansion of the war in Afghanistan, but the President did remove 100,000 troops from Iraq and has scheduled a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan soon (in his campaign the President promised he would do just this…remove troops in Iraq and focus on Afghanistan – again many critical supporters forget that he is just sticking with this promise). However, there is never mention of the positive components of his legislation. Dr. West, Mr. Smiley, and Councilman Barron…I challenge you to consider how much more you would have had to complain about had not President Obama been elected? Have you thought about the fact that your constant biased criticism (it is biased if it only comes from one direction with no regard for the other side) could be causing Black America, the working poor, and the impoverished in this country to get so discouraged that they just stay at home on election day? Your words are only inspiring many in this country…those who are working class, working poor, and impoverished…to stay home in 2012?!

Did you see what happened when people stayed home in Wisconsin and Governor Walker took office? The unions were attacked. Did you see what happened when the people in Michigan stayed at home and were discouraged causing the victory of Governor Snyder? Benton Harbor, Michigan was taken over and other EFMs are now positioning themselves to take over other cities in my home state.  Did you see what happened when people stayed home for the 2000 election? We suffered 8 years of policies from a President who did nothing but end budget surpluses, expand the national debt, cut taxes for the rich, increase our dependency on foreign oil, bankrupt this country with wars we never should have fought while killing thousands of troops, and cause the largest recession since the great depression. This is what happens when people in our urban and working class/poor communities are inspired to stay at home on voting day. This is what can happen if people hear only a biased account of what our President has done and decide that it is useless to vote in 2012.

So Dr. West, Mr. Smiley, Councilmember Baron, and all other critical supporters…I am NOT asking you to stop with your critiques. What I am asking you to do is to make sure that you provide your listeners with a COMPLETE picture of what the President has done…..that is an obligation you have to the people who respect you and admire you! When you are discussing the President’s disagreeable actions, also discuss any of the following accomplishments so people will be encouraged (not discouraged) to vote and force the President to go further in his efforts to please everyone (which is never possible):

  • The recovery of the Dow Jones which almost doubled since its lows during the end of the Bush presidency and the start of the Bush recession (Dow gained 30% in one year)
  • The GDP contracted as much as 6.8% in the final quarter of the Bush Presidency to within A YEAR we had expanded 5% which is almost a 12% turnaround – the largest turnaround in such a short of a time frame in the history of this country
  • We have created 2 million jobs in the past year with almost a third of those jobs coming from the first quarter of this year alone
  • Through it all TARP funds were almost all returned (have to give President Bush half the credit on this) and will only cost approximately $25 billion
  • He signed the Lily Ledbetter Act for equal pay for women
  • The drastic increase in investments in alternative energy that will finally decrease our dependence on foreign oil
  • He has issued the toughest ethics requirements for those working in his administration than any other previous President
  • Don’t Ask Don’t Tell…gone!
  • He signed into law the State Children’s Health Insurance Program
  • He enacted the largest reform in the history of this country of the student loan program through the Student Aid and Financial Responsibility Act (SAFRA) making college more affordable for those who wish to further their education (Dr. West…I assumed you would have loudly praised this as the banks lost billions of dollars on this legislation because they were previously the middle man in the transaction between the US Government and students….President Obama took them out of the equation. A clear example of you Dr. West highlighting how the banks profit under President Obama but disregarding discussing with as much assertiveness those instances that disprove your argument of his “selling out” to the oligarchs.)
  • He instituted the largest reform of oversight through the Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act in 2009 which also caused the banks to lose out on billions in revenue (Where was the praise from this Dr. West and Mr. Smiley? He certainly didn’t sell out to the oligarchs with this legislation.)
  • He was able to accomplish the most comprehensive nuclear arms treaty with the Russians making us more safe through smaller amounts of nuclear arms availability (START Treaty ratification)
  • He has improved America’s image and reputation abroad
  • He has started construction on a new high speed rail system
  • He actually put $4.3 billion into the previously unfunded “No Child Left Behind” legislation to help schools improve their performance
  • Don’t forget about the negotiated rescue of the Americans from Somali pirates
  • He has made more major terrorist captures in two years than the entire 8 years of the Bush presidency including the most obvious Bin Laden
  • He SAVED the Detroit automotive industry from collapse  through bailouts of Chrysler, GM, and GMAC which have largely been paid back (Don’t many of those in my home town who still have jobs count as assistance to working poor and the working class Dr. West?)
  • He poured $18 billion in tax breaks for small businesses into a jobs bill through the HIRE Act to spur hiring and also gave $20 billion for transit and highways programs (Dr. West and Mr. Smiley…I do a lot of work in providing jobs for those in construction and many of these jobs are filled by people who would be considered “working poor”…doesn’t this count?)
  • He extended unemployment insurance again in the middle of one of the most productive lame duck sessions in the history of the country (More money given to the unemployed…aren’t they are part of the impoverished since they don’t have a job? Doesn’t assistance towards them count as help for the underserved? How much more tangible can you get outside of directly giving them a check and putting billions into community colleges and job readiness programs which our President has done?)

Again…please understand, I am not asking that you should stop being critical of President Obama. I ask only that you are mindful of your awesome responsibility to many others. If you are truly in favor of helping the working poor and impoverished in this country, your slanted chastisement of the President serves only to discourage many and therefore discredit the one politician who has the best possibility of doing the most for these people.

If your sole purpose is to provide your listeners with impressive rhetoric, you have succeeded and there is no doubt or question about your intellectual prowess.  However, if your purpose is to help the working people and the impoverished, you must ensure that you are providing a more balanced critique of our President so those who listen to you who won’t be discouraged, will have a basis to form an educated opinion, and will be encouraged to vote in 2012. Bottom line…don’t hurt our best chance of helping the people!

I hope you know that this was written in love and respect for you and all that you do for many Americans. I do many outreach programs across this country and would love to partner with you on these initiatives and/or receive your endorsement and support for them.  I adamantly believe that where the President has fallen short we can join together to fill the void through our collective efforts to empower the working poor, impoverished, the underclass, and ALL of America.


Ryan Mack

President and CEO

The Optimum Institute of Economic Empowerment


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