The quickly fading story of Harry Reid’s comments about Barack Obama’s “light skin” and “non-Negro dialect” offered an opportunity for the President to lead on the issue of race in America, and he passed. Back in March of 2008, given a similar opportunity to show his leadership on matters of race (in trying to justify Rev. Wright’s acid rhetoric against America and the white man), Obama at least made an attempt to move the discussion forward [emphasis mine]:
I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.
But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.
The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.
He squandered that opportunity back then, and actually did retreat; he went on to disavow Wright even though he had said in that very speech that “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother.” He had a political campaign to focus on winning, you see…so much for who this man can own and disown.
Given a fresh opportunity (thanks to the white elitist insensitivity of Harry Reid), Obama contradicted his March 2008 speech again when he chose to defend Reid, suggesting he didn’t really mean anything bad by his racially insensitive comments:
“This is a good man who’s always been on the right side of history,” Mr. Obama told Roland Martin in an interview for TV One at the White House this afternoon , “For him to have used some inartful language in trying to praise me, and for people to try to make hay out of that makes absolutely no sense.
“He apologized, recognizing that he didn’t use appropriate language, but there was nothing mean-spirited in what he had to say, and he’s always been on the right side of the issues,” Obama said today.
The President said that Americans– regardless of race – are more concerned with issues like health care and jobs.
“I guarantee you the average person, white or black, right now is less concerned about what Harry Reid said in a quote in a book a couple years ago than they are about how we are going to move the country forward,” Obama said, “That’s where we need to direct our attention.”
I’d be willing to bet there are a lot of Americans out there that would beg to differ with President Obama’s assumption that we all care more about health care reform than anything else…including matters of race…but I digress. He has a legislative agenda to focus on winning, you see.
I imagine Dr. Martin Luther King must be rolling in his grave right about now. In his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, before the section we all have memorized, Dr. King had this to say about pushing the discussion of race off to another day or a future generation [emphasis mine]:
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
However forgiving Obama may be now, regarding a Democrat vote he desperately needs in Congress to move his health care agenda forward, he was far less forgiving of Trent Lott back in 2002:
On Dec. 12, 2002, Obama, then serving as an Illinois state senator and filling in as host of the Cliff Kelley radio show on WVON, challenged the Republican Party to demand Lott’s resignation.
“It seems to be that we can forgive a 100-year-old senator for some of the indiscretion of his youth, but, what is more difficult to forgive is the current president of the U.S. Senate (Lott) suggesting we had been better off if we had followed a segregationist path in this country after all of the battles and fights for civil rights and all the work that we still have to do,” said Obama.
He added: “The Republican Party itself has to drive out Trent Lott. If they have to stand for something, they have to stand up and say this is not the person we want representing our party.”
The Republican party DID, in fact, ultimately drive him out. The Democrats now, regarding Harry Reid? Don’t hold your breath. There’s a Democrat majority to be maintained in Congress, you see. A few extra words in Lott’s remarks, perhaps to include a reference to limited government, balanced budgets, and State’s rights…(things alluded to in his unaccepted apology) and Lott gets a pass. NO place in Lott’s remarks were there distinctions about a race of people based on their color and their dialect… something Dr. King made very clear needed to be addressed at every level of American society when he said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” Re-read Reid’s remarks for yourself, and decide which of these things are racist and which are not.
Despite their feeble attempts to insist to the contrary, there IS in fact a double standard in America when it comes to matters of race, and the race card continues to be played when political expediency calls for it. This, at the expense of the very same people the Democrats insist are “their” constituency.
We already know Barack Obama has failed to lead America through an economic recovery, a war, and a jobs recovery program. He has failed to lead his majority Congress through his legislative agenda on health care reform and saving the planet from global warming. He has failed to find peace in the Middle East. His squishy softness on terror has failed to keep the American skies safe from terrorists, has failed to stop Iran from making nuclear weapons, failed to keep Yemen and other so-called Muslim nation allies from enjoying a bumper crop of Al Qaeda recruits…and failed to seat the world around an international table and sing Kumbaya in Copenhagen.
And now, given another opportunity to lead the American people back to the table to discuss the issue of race, Barack Obama has refused-sending us all back to neutral corners to wait for another day.