Monday, March 26, 2012

Trayvon Martin case is also a test for Obama

President Obama on Friday made a public statement on the Trayvon Martin lynch-murder case: a painfully careful one that modeled sympathy and sorrow over Trayvon's killing, but not anger or outrage. Think Progress has the video, Obama Speaks Out On Trayvon Martin 03/23/2012:

Now the Republicans are going after him, accusing Obama of racism, hoping to push him into pepper-spraying his own (fairly tepid) statement on the case. Amanda Terkel reports in Newt Gingrich's Trayvon Martin Comments Were 'Reprehensible,' David Plouffe Says Huffington Post 03/25/2012:

"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said, underscoring how the issue affected him on a personal level. "I think [Trayvon's parents] are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."

Gingrich took exception with Obama's comments during a radio interview later on Friday, saying they were "disgraceful."

"It's not a question of who that young man looked like," he said. "Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified, no matter what the ethnic background. Is the president suggesting that, if it had been a white who'd been shot, that would be OK, because it wouldn't look like him? That's just nonsense."
In an update, she notes that Rick Santorum, that other fine Christian white man, also is pressuring Obama to back off his stance on the lynch-murder.

On CNN's "State of the Union," Plouffe criticized former Sen. Rick Santorum's reaction to Obama's comments on the Martin shooting.

Santorum said on Friday that the president should "not use these types of horrible and tragic individual cases to try to drive a wedge in America."

Plouffe called both Gingrich and Santorum's remarks "irresponsible," adding, "I think those comments were really hard to stomach, really, and I guess trying to appeal to people's worst instincts."
The more substantive issue is whether the Justice Department will prosecute the case and/or keep up the pressure on Florida to make a real prosecution. The Justice Department should also be doing a general investigation of the Sanford FL police department, that has a history of similar misconduct. A local police department that deliberately screws up an investigation in a case like this is effectively collaborating after the fact.

But it's a real question whether the President will stand his ground on this. As Joan Walsh reminds us in "If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon" Salon 03/23/2012, Obama has been known to approached race-related issues in a wobbly and problematic way:

The Obamas handle our nation’s confusion about race with an uncommon grace. When the president said the Cambridge police acted "stupidly" in arresting Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates on his own property, well, he was right. But the right-wing outrage machine protested his wading into a local law-enforcement controversy, and he was forced to "recalibrate" and invite the arresting officer and Gates to the White House for an awkward "beer summit." Just this week, after Robert De Niro introduced Michelle Obama by joking, "Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?" Newt Gingrich squealed in faux outrage (which is rich: Gingrich has done more than Obama to disappoint white women who wanted to be first ladies, his two ex-wives), and the first lady’s office issued an apology, as did De Niro.
On lynch murder, the Republican Party has embraced the position that the segregated South was taking circa 1948, when an anti-lynching plank in the Democratic Party's platform sparked the Dixiecrat rebellion led by future Republican Strom Thurmond.

If Obama can't stand his ground on the Trayvon Martin case, Democrats need to ask again just what kind of President we can count on him to be in a second term. Maybe the Party needs a replay of 1948 at the convention and make a big deal about adding a new anti-lynching plank to the Party platform. If Obama goes wobbly on this, that is one more reason for the Democratic base to make the Party convention something other than a celebration of Obama's Presidency. But since the delegates are elected in primaries and Obama has no opposition to speak of for the nomination, even that would be difficult to pull off.

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