Saturday, September 18, 2010


I have just read a long list of angry comments on President Obama's Friday night talk to the Congressional Black Caucus. Prominent among them--charges that he is racist.

To appear before a group that is all of one color, religion, or ethnic background and appeal for support is not racist—whether you are speaking to an all white Tea Party gathering (and most are mixed), or to the exclusively black Congressional Black Caucus as President Obama did Friday night.

While the President has much more often been a divider than a reconciler in his rhetoric and actions, his thinking is too confused and contradictory for him to be a dedicated racist, nor a socialist, Marxist, or aspiring dictator. (And he does not know enough about Islam to be a Muslim.) His speech to the Black Caucus was not racist, but once again he did more to divide than unite Americans or even Democrat and independent voters. Most important, he showed his ever-present insensitivity by insulting black Americans.

Consider these words, "I need everybody here to go back to your neighborhoods, to go back to your workplaces, to go to the churches, and go to the barbershops and go to the beauty shops. And tell them we've got more work to do."

He might as well have suggested eating watermelon, shoe shine stands, shooting galleries, pool halls, and bars. And there he was talking to a gathering of black Americans in black tie dress who are at the height of their professional lives.

These same words also tell us that it’s okay to politicize our work places and churches. What happened to the days when civil libertarians objected so strongly to preachers and churches handing out political advice? Does he remember how his embrace of the highly politicized Rev. Wright almost cost him the election? Does he remember how embarrassed he was by certain business people, teachers, and non-profit workers using their workplaces to drum up support for him? Does he understand how divisive he’s been in favoring union workers over non-union workers when handing out government subsidies?

Another way he insults and stereotypes black Americans is by assuming they all think or should think the way he does. Let’s forgive this supposedly gifted writer for the having blacks simultaneously “sitting down . . . and standing up for freedom,” and note that his critics, including Tea Party activists, include prominent black people. They also fought for freedom. They criticize their president now, not because he is black, but because they believe he is destroying the freedom they cherish.

Does the president understand this? The answer to this question and the other questions, to be kind, is probably no, he doesn’t. He’s a lawyer, but he doesn’t understand that basic advice to lawyers: if you want to win your own case, you must first understand your opponent’s case.

Despite his much praised intelligence, it seems increasingly possible, that he is incapable of understanding his critics and even mutual enemies abroad.

This president, whose supporters often call a gifted writer and a man who appreciates the nuances and complexity of words, also appears to be tone deaf--like one of those people of very narrow brilliance who can do marvelous things, but is incapable of understanding how they effect others.

That is more charitable than the only other conclusion--he doesn't care.

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