One of candidate Barack Obama’s great attractions was his promise to usher in a post-racial America. Voters weary of the long years of racial strife, preference-politics and constant disquiet over skin-color and ethnicity were ready to listen to an articulate black man who seemed to have the whole thing figured out. At last we had found a man who could bridge the divide between the races – both a strong, positive symbol to colored people, and a reassurance to whites eager to move forward beyond America’s preoccupation with race. Mr. Obama might be the One who could make it all happen.
He talked a good game during the campaign, but has he followed through as president? The early signs and portents are, as they say, not auspicious.
One of Mr. Obama’s first moves was to appoint Eric Holder as Attorney General. Mr. Holder is an experienced black lawyer who now runs the country’s entire Department of Justice. In one of his first public statements, he called his countrymen “cowards” for how they dealt with the issue of race. His meaning remains somewhat mysterious, but it did not seem to indicate a healing, “post-racial” attitude.
Soon after the “nation of cowards” speech, the outlines of Mr. Holder’s – and presumably Mr. Obama’s – true attitudes toward racial issues began to emerge. Upon assuming office, Mr. Holder immediately cancelled prosecution of a voter-intimidation case against three members of the New Black Panthers. The trio of black men – all clad in paramilitary garb, one armed with a nightstick – had stood outside a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008, in a threatening posture. They were videoed shouting racial epithets at white voters who approached the entrance, so the case against them was open-and-shut. One official at DOJ called it the clearest case of voter-intimidation he had ever seen.
A plea-deal in the case had already been worked out by the Bush DoJ, by the time Mr. Obama took office. But Mr. Holder dismissed the findings and declined to prosecute the case, except for a minor charge against the individual who had brandished the nightstick. When the U. S. Civil Rights Commission protested DoJ’s dropping so clear a case of election misbehavior, Mr. Holder ordered his people not to respond to the CRC’s inquiries, nor to cooperate with them on the matter.
Fortunately for Mr. Obama, the Mainstream Media remained largely silent on the controversial case. In response to the relatively few questions on the matter, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs evasively declined to comment on an “ongoing investigation.” Few reporters pressed the fact that the case had been abandoned by AG Holder – meaning that there was no ongoing investigation.
In early July 2010, former DoJ official J. Christian Adams – who had quit his position over DoJ’s handling of the New Black Panther case – testified to the U. S. Civil Rights Commission (USCRC) that his former employer had instructed civil rights division attorneys to ignore cases that involved black defendants and white victims. Mr. Adams claimed that the department repeatedly showed “hostility” toward those cases. “We abetted wrongdoing and abandoned law-abiding citizens,” he testified.
DoJ officials subsequently denied Mr. Adams’ allegations, saying, “The department makes enforcement decisions based on the merits, not the race, gender or ethnicity of any party involved. We are committed to comprehensive and vigorous enforcement of both the civil and criminal provisions of the federal laws that prohibit voter intimidation.”
The White House remains taciturn about the case, but the Mainstream Media have now begun to realize that the story might have “legs.” Thus, a few timid articles in recent weeks have begun to tiptoe around the case (e.g., “2008 voter-intimidation case against New Black Panthers riles the right,” by Krissah Thompson; The Washington Post, July 15, 2010.) Like Miss Thompson’s, many articles cast the dispute as a “right-wing vs. Obama” issue. Nevertheless, the lid is off the case in the Mainstream Media, showing a general recognition that it will continue to plague the Obama administration.
Some readers might wonder why I have given this fairly minor election incident so much space. My answer is two-fold. First, I wish to contrast Mr. Obama’s lavish promises of a “post-racial presidency” with the actions of his administration. A child could see that the attitude taken by AG Holder and his DoJ toward the clear case of voter intimidation by the NBP Party members is overtly racial – possibly even racist. If Mr. Adams’ claims of anti-white attitudes within Justice are true, then either the “post-racial” promise was a lie, or the Obama administration is totally incompetent in its administration of Justice.
My second purpose is to contrast the kid-gloves treatment the Mainstream Media have given to this case with the treatment a similar (hypothetical) case – with the races reversed – might have received, had the Bush administration perpetrated it. Try to imagine white supremacists, wearing paramilitary garb, shouting racial epithets at black voters in front of a polling place. Had the Bush administration dared to dismiss such a case, the media-driven public outrage would reverberate for decades to come. Indeed, the incident would probably be mentioned in Mr. Bush’s obituary. (“G. W. Bush – as president, notoriously quashed voter-intimidation case against whites who tried to keep blacks from voting…”)
Mr. Obama’s apologists claim that this incident should be ignored because it is an “isolated anecdote.” That claim might carry weight if the incident were truly solitary. Unfortunately, it is not. Last summer Mr. Obama tipped his hand again when he prejudged a police incident in Cambridge, Massachusetts, involving Mr. Obama’s friend, Professor Harold Gates, a noted African-American scholar and author on black genealogy who sits on the boards of many notable arts, cultural, and research institutions. Prof. Gates was named by Ebony magazine in its list of “100 Most Influential Black Americans” in 2005.
When Dr. Gates found he had forgotten his house key after returning from a trip, he and his cab-driver (also a black man) broke into the house. Cambridge police responded to a neighbor’s report that two unknown men were seen breaking into the Gates house. A shouting match erupted when the professor refused to identify himself or come outside. When he finally emerged – still shouting at the three police officers (one of them black) about “racial profiling” – he was arrested for disorderly conduct. Tempers soon cooled, and all charges were dropped. Cambridge police said they were following correct procedure in a situation where the status of an intruder was unknown. Prof. Gates continued to argue that police would not have acted as they did in a similar situation involving a white man.
The incident attracted national attention when a reporter asked President Obama about it at a White House press conference. Admitting that he did not know all the facts, the president appeared to speak off the cuff when he said the Cambridge police had “acted stupidly.” His remarks sparked a furious national debate on police treatment of minorities, in which this column participated (“Perspective on Gates-gate,” July 28, 2009 – http://www.ahherald.com/index.php/At-Large/perspective-on-gates-gate.html ).
The president’s “beer summit” in the White House Rose Garden, which included Dr. Gates and CPD Sgt. James Crowley, became a media circus, but it seemed to defuse the situation and dampen media hysteria. Over the course of several weeks, Mr. Obama tried several times to “clarify” his original remarks, lending credence to claims that the “police acted stupidly” comment was not well thought-out.
There was little doubt, however, that this was not Post-racialism’s finest hour. Again, it is difficult to imagine George W. Bush making such an offhand public comment – fractured syntax or not – about a local police matter or an incendiary racial/political issue.
This summer’s racial extravaganza was the public dismissal of Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod in the wake of internet publication of a decades-old speech in which she appeared to admit that she had not helped a white farmer avoid foreclosure as much as she could have, because of his race. The White House exerted heavy pressure on Miss Sherrod to resign immediately, which she did.
Soon afterward, however, it was revealed that the video clip – publicized by political activist Andrew Breitbart – had been edited to eliminate parts of the speech which showed Miss Sherrod’s change of heart and reformed attitude toward the white farmer. Evidently, she and the farmer’s family eventually became friends. Embarrassed Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack apologized publicly to Miss Sherrod and offered her a new job in the department. Miss Sherrod is, at this writing, “thinking about it.”
Media reactions to the incident have been mixed, with some commentators accusing the Obama White House of “overreacting” to Miss Sherrod’s speech without researching the complete facts. Others tried to pin the incident on the “messenger” – i.e., Mr. Breitbart, whose widely publicized videos in 2009 of ACORN employees advising a supposed “pimp and madam” on how to set up a brothel involving underage girls had discredited that activist organization and caused loss of their federal funding.
In response, Mr. Breitbart claimed that his motivation was to expose the NAACP’s “racism” by showing members’ visibly positive reactions to Miss Sherrod’s admission of racist behavior in the speech. Mr. Breitbard said he publicized the video clip, in the wake of the NAACP’s recent accusations of “racism” within the ranks of the Tea Party protestors, to show that the NAACP was guilty of the same charge.
The huge uproar served to cover the Obama administration’s hasty, ill-considered action against Shirley Sherrod, who remained the only real “victim.” Thoughtful observers have to wonder, however, if this is what a “post-racial” government is supposed to look like. An hour of research, max, by White House officials would have unearthed the unedited video of Miss Sherrod’s speech – revealing that she had only admitted an earlier mistake and then related how she moved ahead to correct it.
The full story would have been a truly “teachable moment” of the kind Mr. Obama loves to tout. Instead, the “post-racial” White House ran baying after a false scent, further plunging Americans into doubt about the competence – indeed, the good will – of their government.
WWWHD? – i.e., What would “W” have done? I don’t know, exactly, but I’m pretty certain it wouldn’t have been anything like what happened here. Is this the Hope and Change we were promised on race? We're better than this. We know we are.