Saturday, March 24, 2012

Kind Of Like Old Times

There is, they say, always a first time for everything.    Because  I have disagreed with Joan Walsh in the past but so infrequently, this almost feels like the first time.

The Salon editor and columnist lavishly praised President Obama for his statement about the killing (or, as he so inoffensively put it, "tragedy") of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.       She correctly noted "his most important contribution, of course, was putting his Justice Department behind the investigation — one that Sanford, Fla., officials horribly botched.  He correctly made that his first priority."

She should have stopped there rather than commending the President, as is most probably are doing, for personalizing the issue.      Certainly, it was strategically wise (if obvious) to personalize the issue and Obama was crafty in maintaining  "But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin.”

No politician ever loss a vote, and certainly no editorial endorsement, by speaking personally about his family.    Rick Santorum recently discovered that upon the reaction to his criticism of the President for  "saying that it’s not safe to have people down there, then just because you can send 25 Secret Service agents doesn’t mean you should do it… And when the government is saying this is not safe, then you don’t set the example by sending your kids down there."     Having criticized the parent, the GOP candidate was attacked for allegedly criticizing the offspring, with Obama's deputy campaign manager charging "I think that children, for candidate purposes, have always been off-limits in presidential campaigns, and really any campaign."      A San Francisco Chronicle blog asks "Are presidential candidates' kids fair game in campaign attacks?"

His message to the victim's parents, Obama explained, was "You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. And, you know, I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves...."

Walsh called it a "risky but necessary step of making the tragedy personal."      But at the risk- no, certainty- of being radically politically incorrect, I confess at being intrigued by President Obama's confidence "if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

The President did not say that his son would be tall like Trayvon, thin like Trayvon, have prominent ears like Trayvon, or even would be handsome like Trayvon.     He merely exuded a confidence that his son, and that of the Ms. Fulton and Mr. Martin, would look alike.       He stated no reason they would look alike, and probably had no reason.    Except one.

Such certitude was common in bygone days, ones in which white people generally had very little contact with black people, who were denied the same employment opportunities and had little power in society.   The confidence periodically was expressed by Caucasians as "they all look alike."         Though there is some anthropological justification for that impression, whites uttering the phrase often were tarred  with the label of "racist" or with the more common and accurate term, "bigots."

Barack Obama clearly doesn't dislike white people.    Nor is it likely he dislikes black people.      And it's understandable that conservatives, lacking discomfort with the concept that people of one race look alike and liberals, many of whom will accept all things Obama, would not recognize the implications of the President's assertion.      But by giving us no clue as to why a Richardson-Obama youth and Trayvon Martin would look alike, he leaves us no reason to think that he believes there is any reason but race.

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