Republicans can’t make moderate white people afraid of Barack Obama just because he’s black. They’ve tried. And it works on the fringe birther/nutjob element that is already suspicious of people who use polysyllabic words, much less multiculturalism. But with moderate “I can’t watch Fox because the game is on” white folks, all the dog-whistle calls in the world don’t cause racial animosity towards the likeable Barack Obama.
But his black friends are a different story. Or maybe Obama just thinks that voters will be more racist towards blacks without his personal likability? But for whatever reason, Obama has shown no stomach for standing up and defending the black people in his life when the Republican scandal brigade comes for their blood sacrifice.
Remember Jeremiah Wright? If he had been a white preacher to a Republican candidate, he would have gone unnoticed. Instead, he sounded a bit like an angry black man. Obama put that brother on ice. Remember Susan Rice? She did… nothing? She’s not Secretary of State because Obama didn’t want a fight. Hell, Obama didn’t even go to the mattresses for Desiree Rogers, his social secretary who got punked and was replaced by a white woman.
Let’s just say that if I were the first black attorney general, I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of help from the first black president right now…
The flies are circling Eric Holder right now. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson wrote a scathing editorial about Holder in the Washington Post this morning. I still think it’s hypocritical for Republicans to be coming after Holder for investigating leaks they themselves wanted investigated, but we might well be beyond that point now. Republicans smell blood in the water and that needs to play out now.
And I’m not saying that they’re coming after Holder because he’s black. It doesn’t look great for Republicans to be circling around the highest-ranking African-American in Obama’s administration after the disgraceful way they treated Susan Rice, but I’ll give you a call when the GOP cares about the optics of how they look to African-American voters. Looks notwithstanding, they’re going after Holder because they can. Democrats would be doing the same thing to Alberto Gonzales right now.
But since Holder is the highest-ranking African-American member of Obama’s administration — and since that administration has been noticeably thin on black appointees — one wonders if Obama will take a stand for his justice chief.
In fairness to Obama, his lack of “high profile” black appointees probably obscures some of the real power African-Americans hold in his administration. Valerie Jarrett is basically the Hand of the King. Many of Obama’s judicial appointees have been minorities. — and while I’m focusing on African-Americans right now, Obama’s appointment of the “Wise Latina” has to count for something.
But those appointments didn’t cost him anything. What I’m asking (and what Holder should be wondering) is what Obama will do when standing up for a black appointee costs him, politically or otherwise.
Beloved explainer of black culture to white people, Ta-Nehisi Coates, recently wrote about Obama’s uneven relationship with the black community. He noted that when Obama talks to black audiences, he’s often critical in a way that he’s not when he speaks to other groups. And yet when it comes to targeted policies that would help some black communities and ameliorate some of the problems he talks about, Obama is absent. Coates closes with this:
But I also think that some day historians will pore over his many speeches to black audiences. They will see a president who sought to hold black people accountable for their communities, but was disdainful of those who looked at him and sought the same. They will match his rhetoric of individual responsibility, with the aggression the administration showed to bail out the banks, and the timidity they showed in addressing a foreclosure crisis which devastated black America (again.)They will weigh the rhetoric against an administration whose efforts against housing segregation have been run of the mill. And they will match the talk of the importance of black fathers with the paradox of a president who smoked marijuana in his youth but continued a drug-war which daily wrecks the lives of black men and their families. In all of this, those historians will see a discomfiting pattern of convenient race-talk.
I think the president owes black people more than this. In the 2012 election, the black community voted at a higher rate than any other ethnic community in the country. Their vote went almost entirely to Barack Obama. They did this despite a concerted effort to keep them from voting, and they deserve more than a sermon. Perhaps they cannot practically receive targeted policy. But surely they have earned something more than targeted scorn.
So far, Obama has not been willing to risk his personal popularity to defend the few black people he has appointed. Perhaps that is wise. Perhaps that is the price the “first” black president was always going to have to pay.
But let’s say this: right now the Obama Administration is playing out like a Booker T. Washington experiment, with Obama showing off his best assimilationist moves, rather than a W.E.B. Du Bois story, where the immensely talented and likeable President is busy steering other African-Americans into leadership.
Eric Holder, giving Justice a bad name [Washington Post]
How the Obama Administration Talks to Black America [The Atlantic]