From the beginning of his presidency, Mr. Obama has taken on one Goliath after another. Many thought (and still think) that his push for affordable health care for the vast majority of Americans via the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was a game-changer, an act of political suicide.
Then there were the bail-outs of the big banks and the auto industry. It is hard to understand why big business says the president has worked against them when these bail-outs really helped…big business, so much so that the president earned the ire of Liberals like Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, as well as others, who said he did not do and has not done enough for the poor.
There was the decision to go after and kill Osama Bin Laden in one of the riskiest moves one might imagine. There was no guarantee that that mission was going to be successful. Had it failed, his career as president would have been over, and even in light of its success, he has drawn criticism for “politicizing” it during this campaign. Still, the courage it took to make that decision and to stand by it is notable.
Now, he has come out in support of gay marriage. It is yet another decision that took courage not because there is anything wrong with gay marriage but because angry Conservatives, including Tea Party members, are going to use it to skewer him in this upcoming presidential campaign.
The president has worked to fulfill the promises he made during the 2008 campaign, in spite of bitter opposition from the Republicans and an outburst of opposition from the American public as the Affordable Health Care Act became law. He has tackled the economy and done, it seems, the best he could, given the opposition, and has held the line – his line- even as he has nervously watched the unemployment rate hover between horrible and disastrous. Every day, it seems, there has been yet another decision of monumental proportion, and he has taken those decisions on and acted decisively.
The only area in which the president has not shown much courage is in the area of race, racial politics, and racism as an American reality. It seems like, feels like, the president is afraid to talk about it or even mention it, for fear of certain criticism that he is playing the race card. Anything he says and/or does as an African-American is carefully scrutinized, with people ready to accuse him of showing partiality to one race over another, and Mr. Obama, it seems, has caved into the pressure of not bringing that Trojan Horse into the middle of the nation’s woes.
Consider what felt like a fairly innocent and rancor-free statement that the president issued in the height of the attention that was paid to the killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. All the president said was that if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. Duh. That’s an innocuous statement, and yet people waiting to see even the slightest hint of
favoritism toward African-Americans jumped all over him.
It is a shame that the courageous president cannot be courageous when it comes to race; the political capital he would spend were he to delve into and address matters of race would far exceed that he spent even on getting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed. And …it’s a shame, because African-Americans are still the lowest on the American totem pole in areas including education, health care, poverty and unemployment. Surely, there is much to do and much to say.
Ironically, white presidents could address issues of race without spending as much political capital as Mr. Obama would. President Eisenhower showed courage when he ordered that segregation in public places had to end, and President Harry Truman likewise showed courage when he ordered that the United States military had to be integrated.
Mr. Obama could never get away with making a decision that would even appear to help black, brown or poor people too much. He would be seen as biased.
So it’s sad that this president, who has shown such chutzpah in all these other areas, has been loth to step into the swirling waters of institutional and structural racism.
It’s too bad, because he has shown that he is tougher than nails…and it is significant that not even this man of courage, who knows racism first hand, cannot brave this Goliath.
A candid observation …