As he has grown weary of Washington, Barack Obama has shed parts of his presidency, like drying petals falling off a rose.
He left the explaining and selling of his signature health care legislation to Bill Clinton. He outsourced Congress to Rahm Emanuel in the first term, and now doesn’t bother to source it at all. He left schmoozing, as well as a spiraling Iraq, to Joe Biden. Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, comes across as more than a messagemeister. As the president floats in the empyrean, Rhodes seems to make foreign policy even as he’s spinning it.
But the one thing it was impossible to imagine, back in the giddy days of the 2009 inauguration, as Americans basked in their open-mindedness and pluralism, was that the first African-American president would outsource race.
He saved his candidacy in 2008 after the “pastor disaster” with Jeremiah Wright by giving a daring speech asserting that racial reconciliation could never be achieved until racial anger, on both sides, was acknowledged. Half black, half white, a son of Kansas and Africa, he searchingly and sensitively explored America’s ebony-ivory divide.
He dealt boldly and candidly with race in his memoirs, “Dreams From My Father.” “In many parts of the South,” he wrote, “my father could have been strung up from a tree for merely looking at my mother the wrong way; in the most sophisticated of Northern cities, the hostile stares, the whispers, might have driven a woman in my mother’s predicament into a back-alley abortion — or at the very least to a distant convent that could arrange for adoption. Their very image together would have been considered lurid and perverse.”
Now the professor in the Oval Office has spurned a crucial teachable moment.
He dispatched Eric Holder to Ferguson, and deputized Al Sharpton, detaching himself at the very moment when he could have helped move the country forward on an issue close to his heart. It’s another perverse reflection of his ambivalent relationship to power.
He was willing to lasso the moon when his candidacy was on the line, so why not do the same at a pivotal moment for his presidency and race relations? Instead, he anoints a self-promoting TV pundit with an incendiary record as “the White House’s civil rights leader of choice,” asThe Times put it, vaulting Sharpton into “the country’s most prominent voice on race relations.” It seems oddly retrogressive to make Sharpton the official go-between with Ferguson’s black community, given that his history has been one of fomenting racial divides, while Obama’s has been one of soothing them.
Dowd is one of the most prominent liberal writers at the NY Times. When she is savaging Obama, you know things are bad for him.