This afternoon, President Obama showed up before the White House Press Corp and talked about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case. You can read the full text, here.
I agree with much the president says. Racism is — and always has been — “a God-damned thing”. As a nation we should be under no illusions that just because we’re no longer in a Jim Crow era, that we are living on the Starship Enterprise where racism is a thing of the past. Profiling is real. African Americans (and for that matter, Hispanics) have a genuine right to resent it.
The death of Trayvon Martin is a tragedy of the first order. A wanna-be cop in a state with some laws that should probably be reviewed made spectacular errors in judgment (and yeah, Martin made one too, is throwing first punch) and as a result, one family is grief-stricken with loss and another will never be the same.
But we can’t actually know whether George Zimmerman was racially profiling or was just suspicious because he saw someone in a hoodie, looking at houses on a rainy night (which, by the way, is no freaking crime and Zimmerman should have stayed in his damn car).
From what I’ve read Zimmerman is a walking American melting pot: part Caucasian, part African-American, part Hispanic; I suppose, depending on how he identifies, he could still be a racist who hates some part of himself, but — unless his lawyer is a liar — it seems his kid-mentoring and other volunteer activities would belie that charge.
In fact, if these stories are true, Zimmerman appears to have precisely the sort of instincts toward volunteering and community service that we should try to encourage in each other. Except for the cop-wannabe part.
A very irresponsible press seemed to want racism to be the motive for this awful shooting, even editing a 911 audio tape to give that impression. Why? Why take a terrible tragedy and try to ramp it up, and make it more sensational, more emotional than it already was?
If you want to do a story on racism, there are plenty of them to go around. Why distort, exaggerate and hype this one, when others would meet the case?
Anyway, today the president made his remarks and I thought they were mostly good. I especially like the part where he says a national discussion of race should not be about politicians grandstanding but real people talking. Yeah, we need that.
Nevertheless, when I first read the headlines and the pull quote from his remarks (“Trayvon Martin could have been me”) I wondered what he was doing? President Obama is often deliberately divisive; culture wars and straw men have been his friends these five years. “Divide and conquer” is a political method, after all — if you can keep people screaming at each other and hating each other with trumped-up “wars on women” and talk of “fat cats with private jets” — they’re not paying attention to the fact that the government is tracking their every move. Was this yet another an attempt to keep the house divided?
I also wondered (as does Allahpundit, here) whether the president was trying to serve a sop to the press and his base (I am redundant) because bringing civil rights charges against Zimmerman seem difficult.
In other words, I was ready to really hate the statement.
But then I read his remarks, and watched the video, and found myself agreeing with much of it. It might be the best speech President Obama has made about anything, in a while. I agree with Chris Wallace (and Zimmerman’s brother) that this wasn’t stoking racial tensions or trying to further divide. In watching the videotape, I was actually touched by some of it, and Obama has never touched me, before.
A part of me cannot help but think that the only reason President Obama addressed this story so personally today was to get these other headlines off the table, and thrown down into the memory hole:
The thing is, I know that questioning the motivation for Obama’s speech today is cynical. And I know that cynicism is one of my besetting sins; I’m not proud of it. It’s something I struggle with, every day. I wish I were not just now wondering if Obama made this speech today because the Duchess of Cambridge had not delivered her baby in time to make all the bad headlines disappear, and keep them from being discussed on the Sunday talk shows.
Except, even that news might not have keep them from talking about the IRS, or the NSA.
Now, the men and women Calvin Trillin referred to as “the Sabbath Gasbags” know what they’ll be talking about this Sunday, and it won’t be the IRS or the NSA or Benghazi or Detroit or the Economy. Even if they do mention a newborn prince or princess, this Sunday the conversation will be about these remarks made today.
And they’re important remarks; they deserve attention. Yet, we’ve been talking about race-relations in America — constructively or not — for a very long time; we’re going to have to figure out what constitutes constructive dialogue on race and then embrace it. Today is one more day, however, that the press gets away with not talking about issues involving government abuse and over-reach, the loss of fundamental rights; the possibility of cover-ups. And those are pretty important issues, too.
I hate that I am such a cynic. But our president has shown himself to be a pretty cynical politician, himself.
Perhaps it is because I am too-much a cynic that I recognize it in others, and cannot help but wonder whenever our president does…gosh, almost anything. Some of that is my fault. Some of it is his.
Probably the biggest “must read” to come out of this story:
To be brutally honest, the only reason people are even aware of Trayvon Martin is because it became a topic within mainstream news and pop culture. Meaning: News directors saw it as a profitable, sensational story. Hundreds of blacks die annually in South Side Chicago without even a blurb. Trayvon isn’t in the mainstream news for any reason other than ratings and profit. The news coverage on the Zimmerman case almost implies that the killing of this young black man is somehow an anomaly and I resent that.
In this country, if it isn’t streamlined through mainstream media and pop culture, it doesn’t seem to warrant national debate. Our “government” continues to wreak havoc on our civil liberties and there is little to no protest from the black community because of media diversion tactics that keep such pertinent issues out of mainstream media. But if Jay-Z or Rihanna were to make mention of it, we’d suddenly be jolted out of our sugar comas and protesting on freeways.
My point being, people are up in arms about Trayvon based on regurgitated pundits and manipulated facts aired to elicit emotion while fueling America’s anger and division. That’s how you boost ratings. No different from Piers Morgan’s desperate rant over gun control when he knew his ratings were in the dumps. And from where I stand, anyone who still relies on corporate-owned media pundits to support an argument isn’t equipped to offer worthwhile solutions.
People are using Trayvon Martin’s death as an excuse to project their own deep-seated issues with racism and will not be capable of intelligent, empathetic debate until they’ve cooled down and afforded themselves an education.
Yes, and that likely applies to all. Read the whole thing.
UPDATE II: Did Obama bury main thrust of speech and re-inject racism? Krauthammer says yes.
So many have emailed this to me that I will post it. A scathing indictment of the press regarding this case. For someone like me, who did not follow the story closely, it’s worth watching: