Ezra Klein is still wishing for that pony:
President Obama’s statement today on Ferguson began with the words “I also want to address the situation in Ferguson. Earlier this afternoon I spoke with Governor Nixon…” It didn’t get much more passionate from there. The president’s tone was clinical. His delivery was understated. He seemed to be trying to avoid headlines. Even the setting was banal: Obama spoke from the White House Press Briefing Room; not from, say, St. Louis.
The main news in Obama’s remarks was that Attorney General Eric Holder will be traveling to Ferguson — which mostly highlights that Obama has not traveled to Ferguson, and has no plans to do so.
Obama’s supporters aren’t asking for anything Obama can’t do — or even anything he hasn’t done before. Obama was elected president because he seemed, alone among American politicians, to be able to bridge the deep divides in American politics. The speech that rocketed him into national life was about bridging the red-blue divide. The speech that sealed his nomination was about bridging the racial divide. That speech, born of a crisis that could have ended Obama’s presidential campaign, is remembered by both his supporters and even many of his detractors as his finest moment. That was the speech where Obama seemed capable of something different, something more, than other politicians. In the White House, it’s simply called “the Race Speech.” And there are no plans to repeat it.
The problem is the White House no longer believes Obama can bridge divides. They believe — with good reason — that he widens them. They learned this early in his presidency, when Obama said that the police had “acted stupidly” when they arrested Harvard University professor Skip Gates on the porch of his own home. The backlash was fierce. To defuse it, Obama ended up inviting both Gates and his arresting officer for a “beer summit” at the White House.
Making matters worse, Obama’s presidency has seen a potent merging of the racial and political divides. It’s always been true that views on racial issues drive views on American politics. But as political scientist Michael Tesler has documented, during Obama’s presidency, views on American politics have begun driving views on racially charged issues.
And the second showing that since Obama’s election, racially charged controversies have begun to sharply split Republicans and Democrats. Note, in particular, the massive divide on the Zimmerman verdict, which came after Obama, speaking in unusually personal terms, said, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago”
This all speaks to a point that the White House never forgets: President Obama’s speeches polarize in a way candidate Obama’s didn’t. Obama’s supporters often want to see their president “leading,” but the White House knows that when Obama leads, his critics become even less likely to follow.
If Obama’s speeches aren’t as dramatic as they used to be, this is why: the White House believes a presidential speech on a politically charged topic is as likely to make things worse as to make things better. It is as likely to infuriate conservatives as it is to inspire liberals. And in a country riven by political polarization, widening that divide can take hard problems and make them impossible problems.
President Obama might still decide to give a speech about events in Ferguson. But it probably won’t be the speech many of his supporters want. When Obama gave the first Race Speech he was a unifying figure trying to win the Democratic nomination. Today he’s a divisive figure who needs to govern the whole country. The White House never forgets that.
There probably won’t be another Race Speech because the White House doesn’t believe there can be another Race Speech. For Obama, the cost of becoming president was sacrificing the unique gift that made him president.
Poor, deluded Ezra.
Obama was never a uniter. He may have pretended to be, but the facts say otherwise. He is a divider. Before he
won was given the nomination Obama divided the Democratic party. His campaign against Hillary Clinton depended heavily on the use of the Race Card.
Is it any surprise that he has been a racially polarizing president?
As for the “Race Speech”, I prefer to call it the “Throw Grandma Under The Bus Speech.” I remember that speech very well. I’ve written quite a bit about it before. Like Obama himself, it is really overrated. All his speeches are.
The media loved it. So did the rest of Obama’s supporters. But after the speech was over Hillary kept winning primaries and delegates, eventually catching up and even overtaking Obama.
What I want to know is exactly what Ezra thinks Obama could possibly say that would satisfy his liberal followers and not be racially polarizing?
The “unique gift” that made Obama president (besides a bazillion dollars in fat cat donations) was his ability to be all things to all people. The key to that ability was the fact that his resume was empty. He had no record to defend, and his policy ideas were all vague. The media enabled his bullshit by not calling him on it.
This allowed Obama to be simultaneously for and against everything. When he spoke to environmentalists he was opposed to coal mining, but when he campaigned in Kentucky and West Virginia he supported coal mining.
Way back in 2008 I said that the worst thing that could happen to Obama would be if he won because then he would have to make decisions, and no matter what choices he made he would piss some people off. What I never expected was that he would make every wrong choice he could possibly make.