Consider this statement from last night’s CNN town hall on veterans’ issues a kind of Rorschach test — as is true of many Barack Obama statements. One veteran introduced by Jake Tapper asked the president about Colin Kaepernick’s national-anthem protests, a question heightened by the man’s assignment to a mortuary services company. He and his comrades take care of those who have given their last full measure of devotion on their journey to their final resting place, and Lt. James Sutter isn’t happy about protests during the national anthem.
Here’s where the Rorschach test comes in (via The Hill):
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) September 29, 2016
Obama offers a familiar pattern of trying to stand on both sides of an issue, emphases mine:
Well, as I’ve said before, I believe that us honoring our flag and our anthem is part of what binds us together as a nation. And I think that for me, for my family, for those who work in the White House, we recognize what it means to us, but also what it means to the men and women who are fighting on our behalf. But I’m also always trying to remind folks that part of what makes this country special is that we respect people’s rights to have a different opinion and to make different decisions about how they want to express their concerns.
So I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that they may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat, and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. But I also want people to think about the pain that he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot.
This is a familiar pattern that goes all the way back to Obama’s second book, Audacity of Hope, which is almost entirely a string of sing-song setups on issues. Some people say red, but some people say yellow. I say … orange. Believe me, it’s even more glaring when listening to the audio version. Obama long ago mastered the politician’s rhetorical trick to make people believe that he’s on their side, no matter which side they’re on.
As intended, this is an answer that will allow everyone to hear what they want to hear. (In this case, we don’t even get the orange.) Are you cheering Kaepernick’s protest? Then you’ll get the same message as in CNN’s headline on this tweet — Obama defends Kaepernick’s right to protest. Angry over the disrespect Kaepernick shows the flag and the anthem? Then you’ll gravitate toward The Hill’s headline, Obama: Kaepernick should think about pain he could cause with protest.
In this case, though, Obama’s right on both counts. Kaepernick has the right to protest in a disrespectful way, and it clearly disrespects a moment of unity that allows us to come together as Americans to enjoy the escape of sports from our increasingly over-politicized lives. The rest of us have the right to express our disdain for his antics and stop watching his team on television. Besides, Kaepernick’s not the problem; the NFL is, which holds teams and players to ridiculous standards on speech on the field in everything but the national anthem. If the NFL really was committed to free speech and protest, they wouldn’t have threatened fines for those who wanted to wear shoes that commemorated 9/11 and vetoed a planned commemoration of five Dallas police officers who gave their lives to protect free speech. It’s the hypocrisy that’s turning off football fans, and turning off TVs.