When I considered writing a final assessment of the Obama presidency, my original approach was to take the most partisan pro-Obama article and the most partisan anti-Obama article and analyze them. I soon decided that was an exercise in futility. In an environment where all “facts” are skewed through an ideological lens, any debate about Obama’s accomplishments and failures is a waste of time. Liberals celebrate the decline in the unemployment rate, ignoring the decline in the job participation rate and the fact that many of the new jobs created cannot support the average family. Liberals rightly celebrate the capture (albeit deadly) of Osama bin Laden and conservatives stupidly observe that Obama was not actually on the SEAL team that did the mission and therefore deserves very little credit. I’m not going to waste my time on this juvenile back and forth.
So I go back to the drawing board and think about what was truly historic about the Obama presidency. Wars, economic downturns, shifting cultural norms – none of it historic. All of it encountered in previous administrations. What was truly historic, what cannot be debated by any sane individual, was this:
The First Black President.
Much has been written about the stereotypical conservative bigoted reaction to Barack Obama. I seem to recall writing a piece a few years ago comparing Obama’s predicament to that of the average black employee in a white dominated workplace. But the reason why I call the Obama years a failed social experiment is not about the fully predictable reaction of racists. It is about the tacit, soft bigotry of low expectations evidenced by liberals. Let’s start with the opening premise.
The Experiment was Founded on a Lie
Being black in America is NOT being Barack Obama in America. The American black experience is tied inextricably to slavery. Barack Obama’s roots don’t go back to American slavery. His father was Kenyan. His mother was a white American. Barack Obama does not, cannot, feel in his bones the sense of disenfranchisement of the American black. He can empathize. He can also be stopped by a cop “driving while black”, but that is due to the accident of skin
color and his reaction to such an incident cannot be the same as the reaction of someone whose great grandfather was owned by a white man. To put it simply, Barack Obama is not black in the psychological sense. I further maintain that “traditional” blacks like Jim Clyburn or John Lewis could no more get elected President in 2009 than they could in 1864. Obama was the exotic man bigots could rationalize and liberals could easily embrace. Joe Biden said he was “clean and articulate”. That’s code for when you talk to him on the phone, he sounds white, not like fictional junk man Fred Sanford.
The Obama presidency was book-ended by two examples of the liberal bigotry that demonstrate how far this country needs to go before the social experiment of a black president can succeed.
2009 – The Negro Ambassador
On July 22, 2009 Barack Obama gave a press conference devoted to health care. In the days preceding the conference, black Harvard professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates had been arrested trying to gain access to his own home. He was mistaken for a burglar by a well-meaning neighbor and when confronted by police, Gates exacerbated the situation by not controlling his understandable resentment. It should be noted Gates was an acquaintance of the president. At the end of the health care press conference, Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet asked Obama to comment on the Gates incident. Clearly the question had nothing to do with health care and I submit would NEVER have been asked of a white president. In my political fantasy world. Obama would have responded, “I don’t comment on ongoing local law enforcement incidents” or even better, “Lynn would you be asking me this if I were white?” Instead, he took the bait and called the Cambridge, MA police stupid. In so doing, he further polarized an already racially tense incident and the liberal media, led by Lynn Sweet began their role as racial shit stirrers.
What was galling, and went under the radar of all those who see liberals as politically pure, was the implicit racism in Lynn Sweet’s question. She treated the leader of the free world as our ambassador to negro America. This conduct passes for outreach and empathy in our society. Good decent liberal whites want to “understand” the troubles of the black man. But NO black man is an authority on American racism. He is an authority on his own experience. To treat him as a spokesperson for all blacks is actually condescending.
It could be argued that the Obama presidency never transcended race because LIBERALS never let it go. They spent eight years raving about the first black president and scolding every Obama opponent as a racist. Only the most crude conservatives explicitly brought up Obama’s race. Yet the fact that liberals constantly brought it up was somehow supposed to make them seem “enlightened”.
2016 – The Condescension Continues
David Axelrod was Chief Strategist to Obama’s presidential campaigns. He was also a senior advisor in the first term of the Obama White House. He now, among other things, hosts a podcast called “The Axe Files” and late last year, Barack Obama was his guest. The dynamic between the two men during the podcast was telling. Obama tried to strike a balance between being Axelrod’s friend and being his former boss. Axelrod on the other hand seemed to pay little deference to the fact that he has mostly been this man’s subordinate. Don’t get me wrong. I think Axelrod loves Obama like a brother. They have been through a lot together. However, the tone of the interview didn’t seem to respect the office of the presidency. This dynamic hit its nadir when Axelrod proclaimed to Obama “I’m proud of you”. Excuse me? He is the leader of the free world. With all due respect, who is David Axelrod to be “proud” of him, like he is a child who has performed well?
I understand that campaign staff view their candidate as an object to be controlled to ensure a positive outcome. To that extent, every candidate is viewed by the campaign staff as a poll-tested rat running through a maze toward election. But it seems to me, eight years down the road, Axelrod should have abandoned that perspective. Axelrod’s interview made me envision an entire liberal contingent who sees Obama not as a dignified, intelligent, self-made man but as their creation. He is their hammer to pound against the nail of bigotry. He is their kindergarten show-and-tell example of the “articulate black man”. He is their prop to demonstrate how fair-minded they are.
Obama’s presidency convinced me that America was still not ready for a black president. Partly, because he wasn’t really black in the first place. But to my surprise, America wasn’t ready in large part because of liberals. Obama’s two terms were, to a great extent, an attempt to cleanse away white liberal guilt. The incessant racial advocacy did not foster further empathy and understanding. It resulted in a country more racially polarized than it has been since the 1960’s. I submit that because Obama’s feet were not firmly planted in the black American experience, he did not know how to react to being a prop. He tried not to piss off blacks.
Sadly, we will never know how blacks would have reacted to a black president who said, “race is foolishness. I’m not discussing it. I’m not weighing in on it. People are people.” Blacks might have found that refreshing. I certainly would have.
It is impossible to overestimate the damage done to this country by our original sin. To this day, it has us split into three factions: honest to goodness bigots, guilt ridden folks who overcompensate with 24/7 racial advocacy and the majority of people just trying to get through the day and treating most people on an individual basis. We may never get straight racially but until we do, we will not be ready for a black president. Despite two elections, the social experiment of a black president was essentially a failure. And the take away is that liberals are as much, if not more, to blame for this failure as conservatives.
What do you think? The bar is open.