Celebrating Six Years of Broken Promises
“In this country,” said Barack Obama in his victory speech six years ago today, “we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. Let's resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”
Nothing stopped Obama from fulfilling this promise, but he never meant what he said. Recently, former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, who is himself black, summed up Democratic strategy in the 2014 campaign, a strategy abetted by Obama at every turn. “[Democrats] have been playing on this nerve in the black community,” said Steele, “that if you even so much as look at a Republican, churches will start to burn, your civil rights will be taken away and young black men like Trayvon Martin will die.”
After a fashion, the strategy has “worked.” In 2009, 76 percent of African Americans thought that blacks and whites got along “pretty well” or better. Today, that number is 64 percent. Whites and Hispanics also agree that black-white relationships have deteriorated.
Always insecure about his authenticity, Obama has, from the beginning, tried to reassure his base that he was a real African-American and not just someone who played one on TV. This anxiety has led to a series of distortions, none more outsized than his claim as a candidate in 2007 that the events at Selma, Alabama, in 1965 stirred his parents to ignore the obvious obstacles to their multicultural romance and give birth to baby Barack.
“They got together and Barack Obama Jr. was born,” said Obama to a largely black audience. “So don't tell me I don't have a claim on Selma, Alabama. Don't tell me I'm not coming home to Selma, Alabama.” He didn’t, and he wasn’t. In reality, Obama’s father had long since abandoned the family by the time of the famous march. While protestors were confronting angry white state troopers in Alabama, the three-year-old Obama was collecting seashells with his white grandfather in Waikiki.
In July 2009, an insecure Obama publicly signaled to his followers that he was a black man first and a president to all America only secondarily when he weighed in on the arrest of black scholar Henry Louis Gates. Although admitting he did not know all the facts, Obama had confidence enough in America’s “long history” of racial injustice to announce, “The Cambridge [Mass.] police acted stupidly.”
Obama knew less about the arresting officer than he did about the incident itself. Sgt. James Crowley defied the racist stereotype. He was not only a model officer, but also an Obama supporter. A black police commissioner had personally selected him to teach recruits about the pitfalls of racial profiling. As these facts and others emerged, Obama was forced into an awkward “Beer Summit” to pacify the nation’s police and the people who believe in them.
There would be no Beer Summit for Hispanic American George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense in February 2012. To his great misfortune, Zimmerman had a “white” name. Were Zimmerman’s last name Zapata or his first name Jorge, Obama would not have risked alienating the Hispanic bloc he had also been cultivating through fear of the proverbial “other.” In October 2010, for instance, Obama urged the Latinos in his Univision radio audience to think of Republicans as “our enemies” and “to punish” them by voting. On a similarly discordant note, he told a 2008 campaign crowd in Philadelphia, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.” This was the same Obama who was preaching the gospel of unity and civility.
Unlike Officer Crowley, Zimmerman had no natural allies. Besides, too much was at stake in an election year in Florida, America’s most vital battleground state, for Obama to apologize or equivocate. “I can only imagine what these parents are going through,” said Obama solemnly after the shooting. Obama was referring here not to Zimmerman’s parents -- who cared about them? -- but to Martin’s.
By this time, the White House had access to all the information the Sanford, Florida, Police Department did. The courageous step for Obama would have been to defend the local police and to demand an end to the media/Justice Department lynching of George Zimmerman. As an African-American, he had more latitude to do this than a white politician. He chose not to. Concluded Obama after some meaningless temporizing: “But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon -- If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Obama would not have known that Zimmerman was a civil rights activist who openly supported him for president. But even if he had, he apparently did not look enough like Obama to deserve justice.
The August 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, gave Obama another chance to show that America was “one nation.” But three months before a potentially disastrous mid-term election, he had voters to motivate. “Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement -- guilty of walking while black or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness.” An honest Obama might have added “guilty of strong arming a helpless store clerk while black” or “guilty of punching a cop in the face while black,” but truth did not play well to the base.
As the campaign ran down, Obama found himself speaking largely to black audiences making specific appeals for the black vote. “You’ve got to get your family to vote. You’ve got to get your friends to vote. You’ve got to get your coworkers to vote,” Obama told a Maryland crowd in support of black gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown last month.
Obama then awkwardly employed racial stereotypes to connect to his restless audience. “You’ve got to get that cousin Pookie sitting at home on the couch -- he’s watching football right now instead of being here at the rally -- you’ve got to talk to him and let him know it is not that hard to exercise the franchise that previous generations fought so hard to obtain.” So much for the “one people” claptrap. When Obama mentioned cousin “Pookie” or the “previous generations,” he was clearly not speaking to the white people in the audience.
On the positive side, many of those in attendance at the Brown speech walked out. Said Steele, Democrats have begun to realize “that their most loyal constituency is not as loyal as they once were.” Maybe, as people’s eyes open a little wider, we can become “one nation” after all.
Jack Cashill’s newest book, You Lie! The Evasions, Ommissions, Frabrications, Frauds and Outright Faleshoods of Barack Obama is now widely available.