In many ways, Obama’s difficulty in navigating matters of race as president mirrors his struggles in other areas. He has repeatedly and eloquently spoken about race — and his experiences in making his way in the world as the son of a white mother and a Kenyan father — over the past decade. But those words have done little to heal the racial wounds in the country. Perhaps it’s too much to expect any one individual, even the president, to help finally close such a deep and long-standing gash on the country’s conscience. But such is the historic nature of Obama’s presidency that many people, both white and black, expect him to do just that.
Today at least, Obama’s vision of a post-racial America looks even further away than it did that night a decade ago in Boston.
Yes, it’s true that President Obama has been unable to solve the race problem in America and I for one, am sorely disappointed in him on that score. It’s right up there with failing to bring world peace and finding a cure for male pattern baldness, neither of which he promised any more than he promised to end the racial divide once and for all. But still …
Honestly, any talk that Ferguson is a sign of president Obama’s personal failure (except, perhaps the extent to which his administration continued the decades long militarization of police) is truly unfair. There are many things for which one can hold him responsible, but the failure to end white racism isn’t one of them.
Cilizza points to the 2008 campaign for an example of how he allegedly managed to end racism for a time with one fine speech on the Jeremiah Wright controversy, implying that he could have done that over and over again. In fact, the Republicans considered bringing Wright back in to the debate in 2012, only deciding against it when Mitt Romney personally rejected the plan. There were many millions of people willing to hear it — just not enough to win a national election.
Race is never off the table in America. And the nice little fairy tales the white political and media establishments told themselves at the time were a reflection of their own wish to believe that we could just “take it off the table” with the election of an African American and not have to deal with it anymore. I seriously doubt that Barack Obama — or any of the African Americans who voted for him — had any such illusions. It was just one step in a very long road.
This remains a very ugly characteristic of our “exceptional” country, disproving so much of what Hillary Clinton keeps telling us is our wonderful “story about ourselves.” It’s much easier to believe that the first African American president failed to deliver on a promise he never made than admit that our society has a huge, moral hole at its very center.