I don’t know that Obama has ever said less substantively in two minutes than he says here. Kaepernick has a right to protest the anthem? Everyone already understands that. It’s especially tough for the military to stomach disrespect for the national anthem? That may be — they risk more than other Americans do to honor their country — but Kaepernick’s protest has offended many civilians too. (And not all veterans are offended, of course.) Making it a “Kaepernick vs. the military” thing feels like O’s way of dodging how widespread the public criticism is. And then there’s this:
“I’d rather have young people who are engaged in the argument and trying to think through how they can be part of our democratic process than people who are just sitting on the sidelines not paying attention at all.”
“At least he’s engaged” has to be the single most vacuous thing you can say about any political activist. By that logic, Obama should prefer Trump’s friends in the alt-right to the average twentysomething who’s worried more about finding a promising job than politics. They’re “engaged in the argument” too.
What about Obama’s own opinion, though? There’s no safe answer, which is why he resorts to banalities. If he says he agrees with the protest, he’s lining up with a guy who wears clothing that equates cops with pigs. If he hits Kaepernick hard for choosing an unusually stupid way to make his point, he’ll annoy Kaepernick’s sympathizers on the left. He would have been smarter to have echoed Peter Beinart’s criticism, which is that protesters are always better off adopting symbols of America in the name of their cause than they are turning their back on them. By spurning the anthem, Kaepernick’s doing more harm than good for Black Lives Matter by reinforcing the perception that it’s anti-American. Oh well. Obama will finally be free to tell us what he really thinks next year when he’s out of office, assuming Kaepernick’s still in the league by then.