Friday, July 19, 2013

Obama's Calm Coda to a Painful Week

“Trayvon Martin,” Barack Obama tells the nation, “could have been me 35 years ago.”

In an unannounced, unscripted White House press room appearance the President caps a week of heated national introspection with his usually calm demeanor yet the most personal public 20 minutes of his presidency.

Talking about “a history that doesn’t go away,” he says : “There are very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

“There are probably very few African-American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me--at least before I was a senator.

“There are very few African-Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off...

“For those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these Stand Your Ground laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?”

In pointing out that “things are getting better,” Barack Obama nonetheless asks Americans not to get into a finger-pointing political debate but look into their own hearts, as he is doing, to find ways of doing better still.

He ends his appeal for racial conciliation by indirectly invoking Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.

“Am I judging people,” he asks Americans to ask themselves, “as much as I can based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character? [Dr. King],” adding “Those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature [Lincoln] as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions.”

No one, it would seem, could quarrel with that, but Fox News brings on Sean Hannity, George Zimmerman’s brother and others who do.

For many of us, however, it was a return of the Barack Obama we admired in 2008 and in whom we invested so much hope. We would like to see more of him in the next three years.

Update:  A New York Times editorial sums up the rational reaction:  “It is a great thing for this country to have a president who could do what Mr. Obama did on Friday.  It is sad that we still need him to do it.”

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