The Final Assessment of a Failed Social Experiment: The Obama Presidency

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

fred-sanford

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.

 

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Obama: America Was Not Ready for a Black President

I was originally going to post this essay in January of 2017 at the end of Barack Obama’s second term but for reasons that will become clear later, I am posting it now.

The United States of America is not a racist country. It is, however, an acutely racially aware country. The population falls roughly into these categories:

  1. The outright bigots – blacks and whites who hate each other on sight. Sociologists much smarter than I can get underneath the reasons for the deep-seated bigotry but it is there. Fortunately the numbers in this category decrease with every passing generation.
  2. The racially wary – blacks and whites who don’t completely trust each other but will bond given enough time and exposure to common interests.
  3. The overcompensating – these folks, primarily white, are consumed with guilt over the “black experience” and go out of their way to make up for it. Examples range from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews to Rachel Dolezal, so crazed about race she faked being black.
  4. The race-neutral – these folks take everyone as an individual and judge them by their behavior. MLK’s ideal citizen.
  5. The racially oblivious – these folks “don’t see race”. Virtually no one above the age of five qualifies for this group.

The most famous example of the fifth category was Stephen Colbert’s conservative alter-ego that he played on Comedy Central. Colbert was famous for telling his guests “I don’t see race. Am I white? Oh, you’re black – I didn’t notice.” As I said, few adults can make this claim, and it doesn’t make those that can’t, bigots. It just means they live in a society immersed in racial awareness.

Toss these five personality types into a workplace environment and things get interesting. In “Black-ish”, a situation comedy on ABC, Anthony Anderson plays a successful black ad agency employee. In this scene from the pilot, we see an exchange not atypical in a white dominated workplace.It does indeed happen that the well-meaning white will ask a black man for the answer “only a black man” could give him. Because America is so racially aware, blacks in a white dominated work environment get a special kind of scrutiny. The scrutiny goes both ways. Some assume the black man can’t do the job. Others consider him a hero and inspiration for just being among the successful. For the average black man, both assumptions miss the mark.

Now, take the workplace environment described above and put it on display 24/7 in the news media. That is what working in the White House is. It is a workplace environment magnified 100 fold for all the world to observe. Now, make a black man the boss in that workplace environment that is under a microscope. That is what Barack Obama has been dealing with for the past six and half years. He is a black man running a predominantly white “company”, with all the complexity that racial awareness brings, and everyone gets to watch how he deals with it.

Remember in the “Black-ish” clip where Josh asks Dre how a black man says good morning? In 2009, that is essentially what happened to Barack Obama at a press conference about health care. After taking a series of on-topic questions, Obama is asked by Lynn Sweet a question that would never have been asked of him had he been white.

It has always disappointed me that Obama did not respond, “Lynn, what does Skip Gates’ arrest have to do with this press conference or anything else that I, as leader of the free world, need to be worried about? What other “black news” would you like to ask me about?” Instead, Obama played right into her hands and made life difficult for himself. It would not be the last time. While trying to be race-neutral, he has addressed race at the worst times, often in the worst ways – “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon”, a prime example.

But my heart goes out to the President. He simply cannot win. If he ignores race or goes even further to say race should not be an excuse for failure, he will be called an Uncle Tom. If he advocates for “black causes”, he will be called a race-baiting radical. In this country, founded on the falsely professed belief that “all men are created equal”, race is ever-present. Even when a situation is not about race, it is, because we have to THINK about whether it is or not. As a society, we just can’t seem to shake it. I don’t think we will in my lifetime and until we do, we cannot have a black President without a lot of accompanying drama.

Race relations since 2009 have deteriorated. Having a black President didn’t help matters and in fact, probably made matters worse. Despite electing a black man to the highest office in the land in 2008 and 2012, America really is not ready for a black President and won’t be until we get our heads straight about race.


Post script: Three events coincided in the past month. First, I lost my job, the second time I have been laid off in eight years. Second, WordPress sent me an automated congratulations on the eighth anniversary of this blog. Third, someone is whispering to me from beyond, today.

I started this blog in September of 2007 shortly after I was laid off after 24 years of service to IBM. Since then I have written well over 500 articles and for a short time even hosted an Internet radio show. It has been mostly a labor of love. But back to that person who is whispering to me.

Had my mother been alive in 2007, she would have said, “stop blogging and get a job”. Of course, since then I have pursued employment but with limited success. Today, the third “event” that I referred to, marks the 11th anniversary of my mother’s death and I hear her again saying “you just lost your job and you have a family to support. Focus. Enough with the blogging.”

So today marks my last full essay for the Bar and Grill. One thing I did not anticipate eight years ago was that in addition to blogger, I would be a community moderator. As of this writing, about a dozen people gather here just about every day to share their opinions and more importantly, share what is going on in their lives. They have become friends of sorts — not all of them to me — but definitely to one another. Since I don’t want to “break up the band”, I’m not closing the bar. I will sort of put it on automatic.

Every week (or so) I will publish two or three one-line assertions, much as I did in the post prior to this one. They may not even represent my views. They will simply be there to start discussion and more importantly open up a new thread so discussion threads don’t get bogged down and impossible to load in browsers. I will participate, minimally, in those discussion threads while I focus on what is most urgent right now.

It’s been a pleasure writing here. I thank everyone who has visited in the past eight years for their patronage.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

The Bully Pulpit

It is July 22, 2009 and President Obama is holding a press conference on health care reform. As the press conference nears its end, reporter Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times asks the president what he thinks about the arrest of Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates outside of his own home in Cambridge MA.

Obama replies, “Lynn, first of all we’re here discussing health care reform so what’s with the off topic question? Second do I look like the friggin Mayor of Cambridge to you? Or even the Governor of Massachusetts? I’m the president of the United States. I don’t spend my time worrying about local issues. Or maybe you think you get to ask me my opinion on anything black? Is that it, Lynn? Stupid question, next.”

Sadly that is not how it went down. Obama answered the question and inserted himself into a local issue he didn’t belong in.

My preferred answer would have come from Chris Christie. Folks call Christie a bully but he calls out stupid when he sees stupid whether from a reporter or a potential voter.

“Bridgegate” will be hard for Christie to overcome if for no other reason then it shows his incompetence if not outright dishonesty. That’s a rotten shame because I would love to see a straight talking president who actually does inspire some fear in our enemies and even our Congress.

I LIKE the fact that Christie intimidates people. Perhaps he can overcome the bridge fiasco and we can get a much needed bully in the White House.

Respectfully,
Rutherford