In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder said that America was a “nation of cowards” when it came to the issue of race. He stood by that claim as recently as January when asked if the events of the intervening years had changed his opinion. This is a perfectly defensible position to hold, but one gets the impression that Holder is not scolding the nation for being afraid to discuss racial issues honestly but for being unwilling to embrace his preconceived conclusions on race.
On multiple occasions this year alone, the Attorney General of the United States has implied or stated outright that those who are politically opposed to both him and President Barack Obama are motivated by racial animus.
In April, delivering a speech to the annual convention of activist/cable news host Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, the U.S. Attorney General denounced the “unprecedented, unwarranted, ugly, and divisive” rhetoric directed at Obama by Republicans. He further suggested that racism motivated some GOP members of the U.S. House of Representatives who questioned him during a committee hearing with particular vigor.
“Look at the way the attorney general of the United States was treated yesterday by a House committee,” Holder remarked. “Had nothing to do with me, what attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?”
In May, Holder echoed the claims of MSNBC’s “dog whistle” detectors, who derive their job security by being able to decode the veiled racism in words like “apartment” and “golf,” when he said that subtle – nearly undetectable – racism is a greater scourge than overt discrimination. In other words, the kinds of civil rights violations which the Attorney General is empowered to prosecute are of less relevance to America’s minorities than are the coded messages which are inexplicably only decipherable for the audience these Windtalker racists supposedly trying to avoid alerting.
“There’s a certain level of vehemence, it seems to me, that’s directed at me [and] directed at the president,” Holder said on ABC’s This Week in June when asked about Republican opposition to a Democratic administration. “You know, people talking about taking their country back. … There’s a certain racial component to this for some people. I don’t think this is the thing that is a main driver, but for some there’s a racial animus.”
This recent history is perhaps why the White House’s determination that Holder is best suited to play the role of racial healer is especially vexing.
“After years of causing angst for White House political aides by delving into issues of race, Attorney General Eric Holder is heading to Ferguson, Missouri, as President Barack Obama’s top emissary,” CNN’s Evan Perez reported.
Reports have indicated that the White House no longer believes Barack Obama can heal racial divides when tense conflicts like those ongoing in Ferguson erupt. In fact, some administration officials reportedly believe that, at this stage of his presidency, Obama only exacerbates tensions. And perhaps Holder maintains a level of credibility among African-Americans that few others in this administration enjoy. That could certainly be an asset in his efforts to defuse the tensions in Missouri.
In an op-ed published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Wednesday, Holder wrote of trust lost, of the federal government’s obligation to this disgruntled community, and of the reforms necessary to forge a new path toward comity. He made no mention of the racial tensions which have characterized these last two weeks of unrest, and that is only likely to further enrage this administration’s supporters.
As Vox’s Ezra Klein noted, Obama’s supporters were not happy with the president’s failure to address the issue of race head-on when he spoke about Ferguson on Monday. “The president’s tone was clinical. His delivery was understated,” Klein wrote. “He seemed to be trying to avoid headlines.”
Based on Obama’s supporters’ dissatisfaction with the president’s approach to the situation in Ferguson, maybe Holder was the perfect figure to send to the area today.