President Obama finally got his wish: He went Bulworth. Sure, it was on a Friday, in the late afternoon, in the middle of July, and almost a full seven days after the Trayvon Martin verdict. But it finally happened in a surprise speech on race…
Obama did not go Aaron Sorkin on Friday. This was not a speech meant to finally break the gridlock on Capitol Hill. (He actually said, “we’re not rolling out some five-point plan.”) Instead, Obama talked about some of the realities black men face in America. He did not suggest there was much that could be done about it, only that things were getting better. Obama even dismissed the idea that he should “convene a conversation on race” in the wake of the verdict in the George Zimmerman case, saying, “I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations.”…
Obama mentioned his white grandmother being afraid of black men on the sidewalk in his last speech about race, in 2008. That speech included much more on whites’ racial fears — that affirmative action is unfair, or that their kids have to be bused to school across town. But this speech was focused on what African-Americans were feeling — that context and history were being ignored in the Zimmerman trial, the biases on display in the proceedings.
On May 9, 1970, President Nixon made an impromptu pre-dawn visit to anti-war protestors camped at the Lincoln Memorial. It left many people scratching their heads at the time, and suggested Nixon’s inner turmoil about the war over which he presided.
Today’s 17-minute-long, rambling statement by President Obama on the Zimmerman verdict is just as odd as Nixon’s visit, though of course the trappings of the White House press room make it less obviously so. The president’s comments were clearly unrehearsed, not at all logical, and seemed to be a sort of default to his days as a community organizer.
The backdrop of revolution in Egypt, slaughter in Syria, Snowden in Russia, the Castro brothers shipping missile technology to the Norks, the exploding IRS scandal and a still struggling economy make the detachment of the president from presidential duties even more stark. Cynics will say he just wants to make himself relevant again as his hold over the Beltway diminsihes in an almost visible fashion, but it was much stranger than a mere lurch to be significant.
When the president speaks to the African-American community, we often hear some of the same themes about responsibility. Friday’s conversation had a different tone, however: This was about how to bolster and reinforce African-American boys. The fear of many black parents after the verdict was palpable, and it was refreshing to hear the president take a tone of consoler, not scold-in-chief.
This is a profound moment, not only for African-Americans, but for the nation. While the Zimmerman trial has exposed the deep divide between the left and the right, the aftermath has been brutal. Online and on cable news, this past week has felt like a race war with no end in sight — and it has been draining. Hearing the first African-American president clearly affirm our collective pain as African-Americans is a “balm in Gilead” that will help many.
“Along this long, difficult journey,” Obama concluded, “we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.” There’s still a lot of work to do, Mr. President – but you took a big step in the right direction today.
To the extent that his empty words have any meaning whatsoever, they contain three major elements:
1. Things which are true, but so obvious a kindergartener knows them. (We are each shaped by our experiences.)
2. Things which are not obvious, because they are also untrue. (Stand your ground laws give white people the right to shoot black people without cause.)
3. Heroic self-reference. (As did Jesus incarnate God the Father, so I Barack Hussein Obama, in a moment of apotheosis, incarnate the lamb Trayvon Martin.)
What I’m more outraged about is the reflexive need of the left to say all sorts of asinine things, like that Obama’s saying things no president has said before, and, Serious You Guys, we’re really getting into some next-level ish with this latest edict from DOTUS (the Deity of the United States).
“Why did it take the Trayvon Martin case for the president to come out and raise some of these very valid issues that it would be constructive for our nation to talk about in a unified fashion,” said Fleischer, a CNN contributor and former White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush.
“This president, when it comes to racial issues, has really been touch and go,” he added. “He touches on it under moments of pressure or stress and then he lets it go. There’s really no commitment, no ongoing follow up for the president doing anything about urban matters, poverty matters, matters affecting the black community.”
Fleischer, speaking in a phone interview on CNN, was also critical of Obama suggesting during his surprise remarks on the Trayvon Martin trial that poverty and dysfunction can be traced to a difficult history in African American communities.
“I think frankly that’s a terrible excuse for some of the terrible decisions that get made, principally by fathers who walk out on their children’s lives and never come back,” he said. “That’s the biggest cause of poverty in the black community today. It’s not the history of slavery, which is what the president is alluding to in his remarks.”
When Fox host Trace Gallagher asked Wallace if he thought Obama’s decision to speak on the matter was “risky,” he responded, “No, I don’t think so at all. I thought that president was trying to put this in context and I think, to a certain degree, he was trying to explain, in a verdict that has been somewhat divisive in this country, why both sides feel the way they do.” Wallace said Obama was simply “trying to say to Americans of all colors and all political persuasions: try to understand and try to learn from what happened here.”
Wallace said he was particularly moved by the section of Obama’s remarks regarding the younger generation, including his two daughters, which is “better than people of our ages were in the sense they’re more color blind, they don’t see whites see black, or blacks see whites as much of a threat.”
Continuing, Wallace commended the president for handling the matter in a “forthright” fashion, much as he did in his 2008 campaign speech on race. “Boy, I sure don’t see how you can read this as in any way stoking racial tensions,” he said. “This is a president who believes in teachable moments, and I think he felt the desire to be on the record and to say what the felt on these issues.”
Via the Corner.