Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Worst President 6

I started writing the 10 reasons that President Obama is the worst president in my lifetime (and I include Nixon, who others reasonably argue might be). I gave an overview in the first post (7/2/14) and started counting down thusly:

10. The campaign (7/2/14)
9. Obamacare (7/27/14)
8. The economic crisis (7/27/14)
7. Foreign policy (8/13/14)
6. Political expediency (11/2/14)
5. Attacks on first amendment (The closed society) (1/10/15)

And then I kind of forgot about the mission as 2016 election campaign talk slowly started. But, I don’t want to leave it hanging. The “10” part of 10 reasons was admittedly arbitrary. It just feels good to use round numbers. You could divide them up many ways. But, I’ll stick with the plan. I think the next few installments might be after today’s - leadership, lawlessness and debt.

So, here’s number 4 –

The new racism

I have to preface my Obama comments with my own view on race and racism in America. I was born in 1959 and grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. People my age or older, even Obama himself, are also well aware of how much better race relations are, how much fairer to minorities the country is and but that racism still exists. 

My own perspective on racism growing up was probably typical of a little boy raised in a white, liberal, New York family – I was puzzled and horrified by it but also very insulated from blacks and the problems they might have. Slavery was (I think every American except the pathological now agrees) an abomination, but the legal and social barriers, even outside the south, and given the preference of “races” to marry and associate among their own, there still was a great burden that minorities and more blacks than anyone else other than American Indians labored under. Many groups have a story of discrimination, but I do not think the burdens of most groups, like Asians, Jews, Europeans is comparable in severity. Though the alleviation of racist policies spanned 100 years plus, the 1950s and then even more so, the 1960s, provided a waterfall of relief. Some are still unhappy with the civil rights legislation in the ‘60s - ironically, I think on one hand strong libertarians and on the other, racists, at least to some degree. And though I agree aspects of the laws were unconstitutional, in my view (forbidding discrimination even to private businesses) I also think it was an almost necessary law, given the faults of our constitution at its outset, and that they are among the best laws ever passed.

And civil rights leaders were among my heroes, from pre-Revolution Quakers and British reformers (Britain was well ahead of us in this) and up through Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in that era. Though racism still exists, perhaps will always exist in some form, and race relations were far from perfect when Obama came into office, it has now deteriorated greatly, and though he is hardly completely at fault, he bears some fault and could have alleviated it, perhaps even led to further gains, had he taken an even-handed, color-blind, approach.

For the future generation that discovers my unsung work here (and like Bill and Ted, I am lionized in the future – they for their "excellent" music and me for my "excellent" social commentary), it may need to be said that Obama was what we now call bi-racial. White-European mother and black-African father. However, he says that he identifies as black and he plainly does in many ways. This was his first error, in my view. He could have used his own DNA to say that differences between whites and blacks should evaporate, that we are all children of two parents with their DNA in us, and that skin color and other superficial characteristics are actually of billions in variety, rather than divided into a few socially constructed "races."  But, he wanted for political and perhaps personal reasons to say that he was black. It was fashionable to say at that time if you were dark enough to get stopped for “driving while black,” then you were black, and many were proud to say he qualified. It helped him get elected more than it hurt and his world view includes a need to reorganize society so that those previously discriminated against can express their feelings of victimhood and separation, and that it give them some legal advantage to balance the scales. I say that from what I believe is his point of view, not mine.

He was careful in his campaign to make the right noises. His early statements on race were not bad. He gave one fairly well received speech on it while running, necessary at the time to differentiate himself from his bombastic and seemingly idiotic pastor of many years, Jeremiah Wright. It seemed a relatively balanced speech to me. It acknowledged the past, but including the improvement and called for us to get passed it. 

Unfortunately, though he has made similar statements since, he does not act as if he believes his own rhetoric. His campaign spokespersons were quick to call opponents racist, and he did not rein them in. They even accused other Democrats like Bill Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro, who you would have thought immune from such criticism, of racism – but for them, if you opposed him or preferred another, you were a racist. This feeling still pervades. A friend this past weekend told me that he believes Republicans hate Obama because he is black, even if he himself does not approve of his policies.

When he became president, many people were happy, even some Republicans, that a black man could be elected president in America. I would appreciate the often castigated statement of Rush Limbaugh, that he got over it real quick.  But, if nothing else, his election showed how far we had come on race relations. Or so we thought. 

One of the first signs that he would not be even-handed was his reaction to the police in Boston approaching and questioning a black Harvard professor, who had to break into his own home when locked out and was reported by a neighbor, who called 911. The professor, Henry Gates, was hardly a Cornel West type. He a literary critic specializing in black literature, has actually been attacked by other blacks for his views that did not square with their ideas of separating and glorifying only black literature. Nevertheless, he allegedly became outraged at being questioned by the police, believing he was being profiled, and the officer claimed that when Gates came outside after he had left Gates' premises, he was obstreperous, and was arrested. The officer, James Crowley, was also not the Bull Connor type. He had actually lectured on racial profiling before. Not surprisingly, their versions of the events dramatically differed. Charges against Gates were soon dropped. I leave you to study the incident if you like. I’m not picking sides here. Likely there was fault on both sides, first an overreaction by Gates and then by Crowley in arresting him, but I wasn't there. But, neither was Obama. But, although this was as local an issue as can be imagined, the president leaped into the fray, stating (from Wikipedia): "I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home, and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there's a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately." Whether he is wrong or right on any or all of his comments, without knowing the facts he plainly took sides, and that angered a lot of people, though clearly not those like Al Sharpton, who was making even more incendiary comments.

In 2010 a controversy arose that led to testimony by two federal employees in the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice that the department was frowning upon use of the Civil Rights Acts to help white victims. The debate actually also existed during the Bush administration too but not to the same degree. But, J. Christian Adams, an attorney for the division, resigned over it and gave troubling testimony at a Civil Rights Commission hearing as did another employee, Christopher Coates, an award winning civil rights lawyer. The controversy swirled around the prosecution of The New Black Panthers for voter intimidation (which one poll watcher who was there, a former civil rights lawyer himself, called the worst case of voter intimidation he had ever seen). Adams and Coates both testified to being told by superiors and others that they were not there to help whites or prosecute blacks. The DOJ fought the commission and Coates had to get whistleblower status to testify. The commission, completely frustrated by the department’s lack of cooperation, concluded in December, 2010 that the DOJ’s assurances that it did not consider race in enforcing the law did not explain away the allegations made against them and that because they would not cooperate, the commission could not properly review it. In other words, stonewalling won out again. One might say that any blame would rest would Eric Holder, then the Attorney General, and not Obama, but Obama could have dealt with the issue in a sentence to Holder, ordering cooperation and that race not be considered in the future, whether it had been in the past or not. He’s the president. He doesn’t mind the credit, he has to take the blame, not for most crimes or acts of employees outside of their guidelines, but for the policies themselves. 

Foremost in my criticism of him has been his comments made whenever a story of a white man, usually a police officer, killing a black man or woman, made the news.  The first example I recall is the Martin-Zimmerman matter. Zimmerman, not a cop but a neighborhood watcher, followed a black teenager. There was an altercation and Zimmerman eventually shot Martin, who was pounding his head in on concrete.  I watched substantially the whole trial and have little respect for anyone’s opinion who did not. Zimmerman was found innocent, and was overwhelmingly so. Even some prosecution witnesses testified favorably for him, enraging the would-be Zimmerman lynchers who threatened Zimmerman’s life and made him go into hiding. I’ve covered this in more detail before and you can put Zimmerman or Martin in the search box to read about it, but the issue here is the president. Rather than stay neutral before the trial, Obama made comments plainly judging Zimmerman a criminal and Martin a victim - "When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids . . .You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon" . . .  "All of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves" . . ."All of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how something like this has happened." The governor appointed a special prosecutor, although nothing but accusations of racism, which was non-existent, justified it. She brought the complaint herself, which she could do under Florida law, without bringing it to a grand jury.  She caused Zimmerman immeasurable grief, which I believe deranged him to a degree and left him vulnerable to every accusation in the future, despite the lack of any credible evidence against him. The federal government looked into prosecuting him for a hate crime after the acquittal, but there was no indication of racial prejudice to begin with – the prosecutors in the state case didn’t even go there.

When Officer Darren Wilson shot a thug attacking him – Michael Brown, also a teenager, but a huge man who had just manhandled a store clerk he had robbed (the video of which the federal government tried to suppress), Ferguson, Missouri exploded. It was the beginning of the Black Live Matters movement coming into the news (I believe it already existed after the Zimmerman-Martin case). Many myths were created by false witnesses and the media to demonize Wilson, who lost his career over it and to make a saint of Brown or at least sneer at his own culpability. Again, I’m not discussing the issues in detail, but speaking of Obama’s reaction. Without knowing the facts, he took a side, calling the shooting “heartbreaking” and commiserating with the family and the community. Well, any wayward teenager dying violently is sad – but where were the words of solace for the officer who was attacked? A Grand Jury found for Wilson. The federal government, hot on the track of white racism, investigated. I have to say, they did a good job and did not white-wash it. They found the witnesses who claimed Brown had his hands up incredible and found Wilson’s story valid. Too late for him, of course. Did Obama apologize to him – castigate the protesters for falsehoods? Of course not. While he and other "black" leaders pleaded for peaceful protest, their words incited, in my and many people's views.

This has happened over and over and Obama is far from the only one responsible. Sometimes it has been in reaction to gross police misbehavior or at least negligence, such as the Eric Garner matter. Al Sharpton, Obama’s leading adviser on race relations, who has visited with him many times, I believe more than anyone else not in his administration and who I find to be a leading instigator or racial tension, and others, including Obama's former Attorney General, Eric Holder, and the mayor of NYC, all have made statements inflaming racial tension and vilifying police. Some of them took a step back when two NYC officers, ironically neither a white male (at least in the modern way of designating race), were assassinated by a deranged black man.

Obama, does not directly incite violence - I believe he genuinely deplores it. But, I do believe that these statements by Obama and others, too one sided, and always involving some rush to judgment, do incite racial unrest and violence. It has also has led to a sad loss of policing, for fear of being branded a racist, and more black victims of other blacks, particularly in urban environments like Chicago and Baltimore. 

Sadly, Obama could have been a leader on this issue, to be the person who tried to lessen the hold that victimization and separationism, championed by Sharpton and others, has on many in the black community. There are other black leaders or just plain leaders in general who could have provided better advice to him. But, he chose Sharpton and his own brand of racism. I can’t imagine this is going to improve with Clinton or Trump in office, if one of them succeeds.

To be clear, those in the "black community" may have many legitimate grievances, which I believe are more local than national, but in my view many follow the wrong leaders, whether it is Sharpton or those involved in Black Lives Matter. It makes all of our lives worse, not better. But, I'm not trying to balance them here or come up with solutions. This is about Obama and the growing racial tension in our country is one of his most unfortunate legacies.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments are welcome.

About Me

My photo
I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .