President Obama, as leader of all the people, is not well positioned for the job of leading the black population that finds itself mired in despond. Someone is needed who commands the respect of his or her people, and the admiration of that vast—I would argue preponderate—number of middle-class whites who understand that progress for blacks means progress for the entire country.
The older generation of civil-rights leaders proved its mettle through physical and moral courage. The enemy was plain—rear-guard segregationists of the old South—and the target was clear: wrongful laws that had to be, and were, rescinded. The morality of the matter was all on these leaders’ side. In Little Rock, in Montgomery, in Selma and elsewhere, they put their lives on the line. And they won.
The situation today for a civil-rights leader is not so clear, and in many ways more complex. After the victories half a century ago, civil rights may be a misnomer. Economics and politics and above all culture are now at the heart of the problem. Blacks largely, and inexplicably, remain pledged to a political party whose worn-out ideas have done little for them while claiming much. Slipping off the too-comfortable robes of victimhood is essential, as is discouraging everything in ghetto culture that has dead-end marked all over it. The task is enormous, the person likely to bring it off, a modern-day Moses able to lead his people out of the desert, nowhere in sight. Until that person or persons arrives, we can expect more nights like those in Ferguson, with cries of racism, with looters and bottom-feeders turning up, with sadness all round.