Filling in for Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly on Thursday, conservative columnist and radio host Laura Ingraham tore into President Barack Obama’s decision to comment on the unfolding situation in Ferguson, Missouri.
On Thursday, the president held a brief news conference where he updated the press on the situation in Iraq and addressed the escalating violence in Missouri. Obama warned the demonstrators that there was no excuse for violence against law enforcement, and he scolded the police for detaining members of the press and using heavy-handed tactics against protesters.
“The leader of the free world, with sagging approval numbers, jumping into another local criminal justice situation,” Ingraham remarked. “And, once again, he does this before all of the facts have been gathered, before authorities have completed their own investigation.”
Ingraham noted that this episode is no different from the recent past when Obama said that the police in Cambridge, Massachusetts acted “stupidly” after the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates, or that the slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin would have looked like his son if the president had had one.
Ingraham added that the president’s record on race is checked, because his attorney general has suggested that everything from criticism of the president and himself to the enforcement of immigration laws is tainted with racial bias.
Ingraham submitted that Obama’s underwhelming job approval numbers and the appearance that his party is going to be punished by voters at the polls in November may also be driving this latest push to stoke racial tensions. “This is textbook Obama,” Ingraham observed.
“There is supposed to be a difference between being the President of the United States and a liberal commentator on Salon.com,” she concluded.
While Ingraham has a valid point, and Obama’s administration has certainly played an unhelpful role on the issue of racial comity at times (one of those times being the entirety of the 2012 campaign), liberals would hardly have recognized Obama’s comments yesterday as those of a liberal pundit.
Indeed, more than a handful of left-of-center commentators were disappointed that the president called for calm and deliberation rather than, as have some on the left, more outrage over the appearance of injustice in Ferguson. Oddly, many used the same word to describe Obama’s tone in addressing the violence in Missouri:
Well, that was tepid.
— Matt Ford (@fordm) August 14, 2014
— Anna Holmes (@AnnaHolmes) August 14, 2014
@andylancaster it was tepid at best
— Joel Pavelski (@joelcifer) August 14, 2014
It seems some on the left would have preferred Obama appear boiling with rage over the incident in Ferguson, and have expressed whole and total solidarity with the demonstrators over the police. That is how out of step the liberal commentariat is with their elected leadership.
And it’s not just liberal columnists and bloggers who were disappointed with Obama’s speech. According to NBC News, African-American leaders were equally disappointed with the president’s address.
But there is a concern, particularly among African-American activists, that soothing words from the president are not enough. They want to see the president, in his speeches, directly connect the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, both black men, to police brutality and persistent racism. Obama has generally avoided both subjects.
And they wonder if the first black president is doing enough to address issues like police shootings and the jobless rate among blacks, which is double that of whites.
The president struck a careful tone, as he did in the wake of Martin’s death. And it is likely Obama will say more as details of Brown’s death emerge.
But the situation in Ferguson has angered African-Americans, and some have been disappointed by Obama’s reaction. They say it fits into a larger pattern: the first black president is often afraid to call out behavior that directly harms blacks.
While conservatives like Laura Ingraham hear Obama echo the sentiments that would be expressed by only the most sequestered of liberal thinkers, progressives heard Obama hedge and placate to conservatives and whites. These two reactions are a universe apart, and are reflective of just how deeply polarized the realm of opinion journalism has become.
I have to believe, however, that most welcomed the president’s call for calm, the mild pox he cast on both the houses in Ferguson, and his request that Americans remain united in the face of adversity. I have to believe that most Americans are not parsing and decoding Obama’s speech in order to divine some divisive hidden message. For most Americans, a cigar is just a cigar, and I have to believe that pundits on the right and left are, in this case, over thinking things just a bit.