Monday, July 26, 2010

Quality of Character - Part 1

One week ago today, you and I were just beginning to hear about some NAACP banquet where a black government bureaucrat was videotaped spewing racist vitriol to an appreciative audience.

Today, the instant fury of the Shirley Sherrod saga continues its paradoxical course through our national press, the blogosphere, and private conversations between people who either wish the story would just go away or hope it jump-starts a new dialog on race relations.

Because now, just as fingers are pointing to the reprehensible racism of Andrew Breitbart for first posted the incriminating video clip on his website, they’re also pointing to President Barak Obama, who appears to be inept at the very issue he claimed his election helped resolve: post-segregationist inter-racial strife.

Whether you voted for him or not, on inauguration day, you probably shared a common amazement that the United States of America had finally elected a black person to be president. Sure, many conservatives chaffed at his acquiescence towards Muslims, his former pastor’s hatred of whites, and his privileged education greased by affirmative action quotas. Some could look across the political landscape and easily identify other blacks who would have been better candidates if we were playing the race card. But nevertheless, Obama was the candidate, and Obama was the winner. And whether that made you happy or not, the historical power of his win seemed undeniable.

But it didn’t take long for even liberal blacks to realize that for all of his rhetoric, Obama isn’t the racially-sensitive leader he claimed to be. In fact, he appears to take great pains to mollify right-wing conservatives at the expense of cross-culturalism.

Our first major inkling came when his friend, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., pitched a hissy fit when a neighbor of his called 911 on him, and the responding cops wanted an ID. Instead of telling his black friend to chill out and let the white cops do their job, Obama invited Gates and the cop he accused of racial profiling to the White House for a “beer summit.” The stunt didn’t to diddley for improving race relations; Obama came across as impotent and Gates as petulant. Only the cop emerged unscathed.

Rounding Out Your Inner Circle

Of course, every president buffers themselves with advisers to help provide perspective and background for both national policy and daily issues. With dismay, some blacks acknowledge that conservative Republican George W. Bush had far more black advisers – not to mention cabinet officials – than the liberal Democratic Obama.

I criticize 43 a lot, but one area where he set a great example was his colorblindness. Critics first assumed Bush was trying to ingratiate himself with blacks by having General Colin Powell and then Dr. Condoleeza Rice as secretaries of state – arguably the most visible cabinet post apart from the presidency. However, even liberal blacks who had watched Bush as governor in Texas had to admit that of all his faults, racism isn’t one of them. He picks the best person for the job, regardless of skin color.

Can the same be said of Obama? Virtually all of his top advisers are white. Not that white people can’t provide unbiased analysis of events and issues, and not that blacks are the only people who can validate the black experience. But just as you have business executives advise you on economic matters, doesn’t it make sense that, on average, black people might have a more intrinsic understanding of black society and culture?

For example, most whites had never heard the name “Sherrod” before last week, but within the black civil rights lexicon, Sherrod is a name that at least rings a bell, because Shirley’s husband was a leader in the non-violent student protest movement during the 1960’s. While it doesn’t take a black person to know that, what are the chances a black person with a pedigree good enough to advise the president would at least recognize the name quicker than a white person with a similar historic pedigree? And obviously, none of the whites serving Obama knew this detail from the civil rights era at all. They didn’t even have the presence of mind to Google it – like many ordinary Americans did.

Communicator in Chief?

Which brings us to the second point. Remember when Obama protested being deprived of his Blackberry? Oh, we were going to have our first technology-savvy Executive-in Chief, and communication was going to be state-of-the art.

Well, that ain’t happening, is it? Some media wonks have been blasting the White House and its feeble attempts at contacting Sherrod during the early hours and days of last week’s fiasco. Even though Sherrod was courted by every cable news show, a spokesman for the USDA complained they couldn’t contact her.

How could all of these cable news shows get ahold of Sherrod, when the Executive Branch could not? Do Obama’s people have this much trouble getting ahold of world leaders? And Sherrod wasn’t exactly in hiding. How eager was the White House to actually contact Sherrod and get her side of the story? Was Sherrod refusing to take their calls? Why did it take so long for the White House and the USDA to get on the same page, when even Fox News was proclaiming Sherrod’s innocence? Why did the Obama administration – and the NAACP, for that matter – immediately take the side of a far-right-wing blogger with a Tea Party axe to grind? Obama's people obviously over-reacted by under-reacting: they didn't research the issue, they didn't establish contact with Sherrod for her side of the story, and they didn't contact Brietbart for the video's provenance. With a civil rights issue in the balance.

By the way, these are not my original questions. Sherrod, civil rights leaders, the media, and others are asking these same questions.

Tomorrow: Part Two (related to the Faulkner endorsement you see on this blog)

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