Via NRO, I’m late to this but wanted to flag it as a postscript to O’s comments on race affecting his job approval. Is Sharpton on the level here or just spinning for him? Before you answer, here’s a bit from the sequel to “Game Change” last year:
“Obama had little patience for the ‘professional left,’ and vanishingly close to zero for what one of his senior African American aides, Michael Strautmanis, referred to as ‘professional blacks’ (as opposed to black professionals),” authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann wrote on page 39 of the book. “Apart from Georgia congressman John Lewis and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, Obama had nearly as much contempt for the CBC as he did for the Tea Party Caucus.”
“New York’s Charlie Rangel he derided as a hack; Jesse Jackson Sr. was effectively banned from the White House,” according to the authors. “Obama remembered all too well a conversation with [Cornel] West in 2009, in which the professor used the precious time to complain about his seating at the inauguration.”…
Obama, according to the authors, has struggled with the left and the black community. “One day in the spring of 2011, as he sat with some staffers preparing for a speech to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Obama rattled off a list of his policies,” the authors note in the same passage. “Cracking down on predatory lending. Education reform. Student loan reform. Most important, health care reform. All with an outsize impact on African Americans. All achieved at a time when half of the GOP believed he’d been born in Kenya . Obama threw up his hands. ‘After all that,’ he said, ‘am I still not black enough?’”
Obama’s always preferred to let surrogates handle race cards on his behalf, notwithstanding the occasional “police acted stupidly” or “if I had a son he would have looked like Trayvon” comment when he’s cornered on some bit of hot-button racial politics and has to speak up. The problem with surrogates, though, is that they bring their own baggage to the debate; in Sharpton’s case, that baggage could fill a few dozen shipping containers. Go figure that O doesn’t want this cretin, with the Tawana Brawley hoax and Crown Heights riot on his CV, appointing himself some sort of unofficial White House mouthpiece in attacking critics of White House policies as racist. That’s a headache for O under any circumstances but it would have been especially poisonous pre-reelection, when Democrats were desperate to keep disaffected white voters who helped elect him in 2008 in the fold. If you’re Obama, and you know you’ll have 95+ percent of the black vote on election day anyway, how does it benefit you to have Al Sharpton running around trying to “help”? Of course he told the guy to shut up.
My guess is, if he thought he could get away with it, he wouldn’t meet with “professional blacks” like Sharpton at all. He went more than two years without holding a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, until enough complaints trickled into the media that he felt he had no choice. Even his overrated speech on race during the 2008 campaign, which sent thrills up the legs of media liberals everywhere, was something he delivered only after the Jeremiah Wright story had blown up on him and he needed to do damage control. (Speaking of which, when was the last time he saw Wright? Six, maybe seven years ago?) Lord knows he’s not above letting leftists play defense for him by lobbing racial grenades at the right (unless, like Sharpton, they’re so compromised politically that he could be hurt by it), but I think he came to the conclusion — and not recently either — that talking about this subject himself will almost always do more harm than good. It won’t win him any more black votes and it might cost him votes among other groups, whether because they think it’s unpresidential and divisive to play racial politics or because they perceive that O’s “siding” with blacks in discussing racial matters. Look no further than what he told the New Yorker about his race making him less popular with some people and more popular with others, a truism that somehow became major news yesterday because it was O himself who said it. When it comes to self-serving accusations of racism, he’s better off not bothering. He’s got Chris Matthews for that.