Recently, President Barack Obama has started to slide in the U.S. national opinion polls. His health care overhaul is sagging under the shadow of a more than one trillion dollar price tag. The U.S. economy continues to stagger along, shedding more and more workers. His own secretary of the treasury said unemployment will peak in the second half of next year. His rhetorical about-face on the Iranian Election turmoil made him no friends, save the despots in Tehran, who needed the time granted by his shilly-shallying to crush the protesters. His insistence on being a lapdog for Hugo Chavez and the Castro brothers during the still-developing Honduran Presidential crisis has exhibited his swooning for all things dictatorial. Still, I have to admit, he is the most cheerful Marxist I know. He's much more chipper than the dour Daniel Ortega, more lively than the moribund Castro brothers, and more suave than the loopy Hugo Chavez.
So I must say I was a bit shocked by his rhetorical hit job on the Cambridge police during the Gates fracas. Why was he so harsh when the president admitted he didn't know what was going on? Some have suggested that he needs to hit the reset button on his presidency — to start over. Perhaps this now trumped-up racial incident was just that: an attempt to reset a Presidency that is gradually sliding from a showy burst of optimism to turgid mediocrity or worse.
The president has declared this media event a "teachable moment." Well, what does this teach us about Barack Obama? When does Obama talk of race? He spoke about it in the campaign, when things seemed to get bumpy or when he needed a lift. When Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire in the Democratic primary, she and hubby Bill were blasted as racists over remarks that could only be construed as racist if you had some network news pundit tell you they were. This helped Obama big time, as Hillary Clinton could never shed the label of racist throughout the rest of the campaign. It hung around like a bad smell.
In the second race card play, Obama himself played pundit by explaining what the McCain camp strategy would be. According to candidate Obama, they would simply mention he's black and thereby make his race an issue. This ludicrously simple take on the opposing strategy allowed Obama to introduce race himself and drape himself as the righteous victim when no insult had occurred . This smear helped Obama open up space before the Democratic convention and fill a void in news that his media servants dutifully exploited.
So now fast-forward to an Obama presidency that is clearly struggling, despite tremendous advantages. The old cheery Obama seems less so. Governing is tough. So what to do? A minor police incident is blown up to national scale. Racial profiling is solemnly invoked though by all accounts except the arrested Harvard professor, nothing of the sort ever occurred . Obama clearly knew he was raising a red herring, but this is not the campaign anymore. Obama now runs the show. A ruler must be more careful and constructive. This sloppy play of the race card seems out of character for the formerly suave, cheery Marxist. The race card can only played one way, lest it boomerang. Most of us know, after almost 50 years of affirmative action, how the game is played.
In any discussion of race in America, there are, sadly, essentially two paths on which these things track. One involves invoking bland platitudes to skirt the issue until the proverbial commercial break. The other is a vicious verbal blood sport, meant to smear the other side as racist as quickly as possible. These smears can be as blatant as the Harvard professor screaming about race at the police. They can be slightly more subtle, as in Obama implying that someone white isn't smart enough to carry out the arrest of a black man. An even more brassy smear would be Sonia Sotomayor saying that her group, Latinas, is smarter than another group, white men.
Now the interesting part is these people know the importance of what they're saying, but are rolling the dice that they can bulldoze folks with their supposedly enlightened point of view. However, when challenged, they back down because they recognize that the larger society realizes their opinion is foul and hateful. The Harvard professor had contemplated a lawsuit, but now wants to "move on." Judge Sotomayor now says her comment was "bad" After accusing the police which was one white officer on the scene, of "acting stupidly" President Obama retreated to a slightly more humble attitude of recalibration, which was wise since he said himself he didn't know all the facts. Bud Light anyone?
Why haven't I mentioned any white racists? Think about this one. Don Imus, radio show host made a scummy racist remark about a women's' college basketball team. When he was called out for it, he was fired, as he should have been. Sonia Sotomayor is about to become a Supreme Court Justice. Barack Obama is lauded for raising the issue of race relations in this country. And certainly no one is calling for the firing or even censure of the Harvard professor. It's easy to see which side benefits by raising the race card. Race relations are severely lopsided in this country and affirmative action is to blame. You can't create a privileged group without that privilege eventually skewing the way that group thinks about itself and other groups.
Racism was a widespread evil in the United States, but it is gradually fading. How do I know this? Because over time, the races in a heterogeneous country mix. People don't fear or hate those to whom they are related. So you get a Mariah Carey, a Derek Jeter and yes, a Barack Obama. In time, Affirmative Action will seem rather ludicrous, as everyone will say they are part this or that, but the real duty we can do now is to ignore race and focus on one's thoughts, words and deeds. Sure poor African Americans and others need help. I would not be against means testing for jobs or education, but a blanket category of race seems insipid in this day and age. After all, you have black CEO's, black secretaries of state (two of them) and now a black president. Affirmative action worked. As the Harvard professor would say, it's time to move on.
Obviously, playing this card still works to a degree and encourages people to think of themselves as only a racial entity. However, as stated, this country is becoming more mixed, and those who continue to cry racism at the drop of a hat will be seen as crying wolf. Once someone is tagged as a whiner or a punk, especially a leader or prince, then they have little real power. Machiavelli warns a prince must never be seen as odious. Crying wolf about racism or anything else is a big step in that direction. Lest this whole essay be seen as whiny itself, let's give the president a suggested course of action.
Want higher poll numbers Mr. President? Take a bold decisive path, with actions, not just words. Show that your an individual who sees what America will be like and aid her in getting there. End Affirmative Action in your term. This would square nicely with your post-racial billing. Eventually, it will be superfluous anyway. Why not get ahead of the historical curve? You've said you want "parity." Why not remove this last government-sanctioned distortion of racism in American life once and for all?
I'm not a one issue voter, but if you do this, I will vote for your reelection. Many will toss verbal slings and arrows. Among the African American aristocracy, I'm sure there'll be howls. However, you know this is the right way: a completely equal America before the law, in academia and in the market place. Ironically, because of your race, you may be the only one in the foreseeable future who can do this. As has been said "Only Nixon could go to China."