Do blacks owe Obama their votes?

At the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Sen. Barack Obama said, "There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America -- there is the United States of America."

Those were welcome and commendable words. Unfortunately, they appear to be only words. Since then, President Obama has divided us along race and class lines more than any modern president.

Some of his strongest, high-profile supporters in the black community are now saying that President Obama's race, alone, should be enough for black voters to vote for his re-election.

Krissah Thompson of The Washington Post reports that on "The Tom Joyner Morning Show," which has an estimated 8 million radio listeners, Mr. Joyner, who is black, said, "Stick together, black people." The show reaches one in four African-American adults.

Rev. Al Sharpton, who also has a radio show and a gig on MSNBC, admonished blacks who have been critical of the president, "I'm not telling you to shut up. I'm telling you: Don't make some of us have to speak up."

The attempt at poetry is getting tiresome, Al. Why don't you leave that to Jesse Jackson?

Mr. Joyner went even further on his blog: "Let's not deal with the facts right now," he said. "Let's deal with just our blackness and pride -- and loyalty. We have the chance to re-elect the first African-American president, and that's what we ought to be doing. And I'm not afraid or ashamed to say that as black people, we should do it because he's a black man."

Try that in football. Never mind that the black quarterback continues to throw interceptions or drop the ball, keep him in the game simply because he's black. If that happened, he'd be booed until the coach pulled him off the field, and those boos wouldn't just be coming from whites.

In the same week the memorial to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was dedicated in Washington, Messrs. Joyner and Sharpton are saying that Barack Obama should be judged not on the content of his character and policies but rather on the color of his skin. How sad. How racist.

If a black president cannot be held accountable for his policies and must receive the votes of African-Americans solely because of his race, then all of the marching for equal rights has been for nothing. The question ought to be this: Are African-Americans, indeed, are all Americans, better off than they were when Barack Obama took office? By any objective standard, the answer must be "no." How do black people expect their circumstances to improve if Mr. Obama is elected for another four years? If they conclude they will not, why not vote for someone who can create the conditions under which more of them might get a job, for example? Black unemployment is 16.7 percent, the highest it's been in 27 years.

Messrs. Sharpton and Joyner don't have to worry too much about their financial futures. But too many African-Americans remain mired in conditions that have characterized many in their community for decades. Why would they want to continue their lifestyles out of "pride" and "loyalty" when the Democratic Party has been disloyal to them and a better way is available?

Recent Washington Post-ABC News polls reveal a decline in the number of blacks with "strongly favorable" views of the president and his efforts to improve the economy. What people like Messrs. Joyner and Sharpton fear is a loss of a place at the political table, a table that has been set far more elegantly for them than for too many of the African-Americans for whom they claim to speak.

What the slide in Obama's support in the African-American community demonstrates is that increasing numbers of black people are beginning to understand they have been played for suckers by the Democratic Party. They are right to feel this way. Their loyalty should not be to a party but to themselves, their families and their best interests, which lie outside a welfare system that has locked too many of them into dependence and an addiction to a government check. What they need instead is a reality check.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at tmseditors@tribune.com.

Radio host and columnist Ron Smith writes about his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, the well-wishes he has received and his plans to pursue treatment and continue his work.