Right now, it’s beginning to look as if President Obama will end up deserving the Nobel Peace Prize he so prematurely received in 2009.
Perhaps you recall how, during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, Obama’s opponents treated his expressed willingness to speak with the leaders of unfriendly countries such as Cuba and Iran as a sign of immaturity.
“Irresponsible and frankly naïve,” was how Hillary Clinton put it.
Joe Biden said it was important for an inexperienced president not to get played by crafty foreigners.
Obama was unrepentant. “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them—which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the Bush] administration,” he said, “is ridiculous.”
And so it was. Only ridiculous people talk that way now. With hindsight, it’s become clear that Obama wasn’t simply repudiating the GOP’s melodramatic “Axis of Evil” worldview, but expressing his own considerable self-regard.
Also his confidence in America as he sees it through his unique personal history as a kind of inside-outsider, capable of being more than ordinarily objective about our place in the world. When you’re the most powerful economic and military power on Earth, he keeps saying with regard to the Iran deal, it’s important to act like it: strong, calm, and confident. Able to take risks for peace because your strength is so overwhelming.
President Obama told the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman that if Ronald Reagan could reach verifiable arms agreements with the Soviet Union, a country that posed “a far greater existential threat to us than Iran will ever be,” then dealing with the Iranians is “a risk we have to take. It is a practical, common-sense position.”
As we saw in 2003, any damn fool can start a Middle Eastern war. And while hardly anybody in the United States wants one, even Iranian hardliners should have no doubt who would win such a conflict.
“Why should the Iranians be afraid of us?” Friedman asked.
“Because we could knock out their military in speed and dispatch if we chose to,” Obama said.
That’s the same reason Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and his allies in the U.S. Congress) need to cool it with the Chicken Little rhetoric. Obama thinks it’s “highly unlikely that you are going to see Iran launch a direct attack, state to state, against any of our allies in the region. They know that that would give us the rationale to go in full-bore, and as I said, we could knock out most of their military capacity pretty quickly.”
Of course Netanyahu knows that perfectly well. But here’s the kind of thinking that he and his allies on the evangelical right really object to:
“Even with your adversaries,” Obama said, “I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran. We had in the past supported Saddam Hussein when we know he used chemical weapons in the war between Iran and Iraq, and so…they have their own…narrative.”
Demonizing Iran serves Netanyahu’s short-term political purposes. Ditto Republican presidential candidates. But Obama has a wider audience and a longer view in mind. Much of what he said was directed over the heads of his domestic audience. Besides, GOP war talk makes it easier for Democrats to support Obama.
“Iran will be and should be a regional power,” he told Friedman. “They are a big country and a sophisticated country in the region. They don’t need to invite the hostility and the opposition of their neighbors by their behavior. It’s not necessary for them to be great to denigrate Israel or threaten Israel or engage in Holocaust denial or anti-Semitic activity. Now that’s what I would say to the Iranian people.”
He also focused upon the common enemy:
“Nobody has an interest in seeing [the Islamic State] control huge swaths of territory between Damascus and Baghdad,” Obama said. “That’s not good for Iran.”
Indeed not. More than the Turks, more than Saudi Arabia, more than anybody but the Kurds, Iranian forces are fighting ISIS on several fronts.
The president’s words were grudgingly noted in Tehran. In his own carefully crafted speech expressing guarded blessings for the arms control agreement, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei assured hardliners that he hadn’t gone soft on America.
However, he also alluded to Obama’s conciliatory remarks.
“He mentioned two or three points, but did not confess to tens of others,” Khamenei complained.
Which is how conversations begin.
This deal isn’t the end. But it’s an excellent beginning—of what, remains to be seen. Iran has essentially purchased anti-invasion insurance, while the U.S. and its allies have bought relative stability in the Persian Gulf.
Could things go wrong? Things can always go wrong.
But there’s always time to start a war.
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 22, 2015
It seems to me that the job of political scientists is to identify patterns in political history as a way to predict the future. One of those patterns that has been pretty generally accepted is that once a presidential campaign begins to replace a second-termer, the White House occupant goes into “lame duck” status. That is certainly what everyone was expecting from President Obama after the huge losses Democrats suffered in the 2014 midterms.
But as we all know by now, the President decided he’d start a new pattern…one that saw his remaining two years as a “fourth quarter” in which he vowed to play to the end. His success in being able to do that hinged on several factors.
1. A scandal-free presidency
During my lifetime, no two-term president has managed to escape the drag of either scandal or terribly flawed policies at the end of their second term. Johnson had Vietnam. Nixon had Watergate. Reagan had Iran/Contra. Clinton had impeachment. Bush had the war in Iraq and the Great Recession.
Recently David Brooks noted that the current administration is the exception to that pattern.
I have my disagreements, say, with President Obama, but President Obama has run an amazingly scandal-free administration, not only he himself, but the people around him. He’s chosen people who have been pretty scandal-free.
That means that not only does the President maintain the good will of most Americans, but he doesn’t have to devote an inordinate amount of time to defending himself or attempting to fix policy failures.
2. Previous work is bearing fruit
Last December President Obama sat down for an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep. In response to questions about some of the bold moves he’d already taken since the 2014 midterms, the President said this:
But at the end of 2014, I could look back and say we are as well-positioned today as we have been in quite some time economically, that American leadership is more needed around the world than ever before — and that is liberating in the sense that a lot of the work that we’ve done is now beginning to bear fruit. And it gives me an opportunity then to start focusing on some of the other hard challenges that I didn’t always have the time or the capacity to get to earlier in my presidency.
The major things he is referring to are that the economy was recovering, healthcare reform was working and ground troops were out of both Iraq and Afghanistan. But in addition to all that, diplomacy had opened the doors in Cuba, brought Iran to the negotiating table and led to an agreement with China about climate change.
3. Pen and phone strategy
A lot of the assumption about President Obama’s pending lame duckness had to do with the intransigence of Congress that was only bolstered by the 2014 midterms. But in January of 2014, the President instructed his Cabinet to bring him ideas he could implement via executive order or through persuasion with business leaders and local/state governments. Thus began his “pen and phone” strategy that led to everything from DAPA to new rules for overtime pay to working with local governments to provide paid sick/family leave.
4. Big events
Political pundits are often guilty of assuming that whatever is happening today will be a permanent narrative. But national/international events have a way of changing the current dynamic. Nowhere has that been more evident than the handwringing over President Obama’s assumed irrelevance when House Democrats handed him a “humiliating” defeat on TPA a couple of weeks ago. We all know how that one turned out. Just as the House and Senate re-grouped to pass TPA, the events in Charleston, SC were unfolding and the Supreme Court was preparing to hand down rulings affirming Obamacare, marriage equality and disparate impact. As Michael Cohen wrote, we’ve recently been witness to ten days that turned America Into a better place. From an affirmation of his policies to his Amazing Grace eulogy, President Obama has been front and center on it all.
But big events can help or hurt a presidency. The lesson we should all learn from their recent trajectory is that things can change in a heartbeat. President Obama still has a year and a half to go. There are a few things we know are coming up, like whether or not he is able to work with Iran and P5+1 to reach a deal on nuclear weapons. This December we’ll learn whether or not the agreements the Obama administration has crafted with countries like China, India and now Brazil will lead to an international agreement on climate change at the UN Conference in Paris. Both of those would be historic achievements. And then, of course, there are the unknown events that could be on the horizon.
This may very well be the first time in the modern era that a sitting president has as much influence on a presidential campaign as any of the candidates who are running for office. The increasing size of the clown car on the Republican side means that it might be months before any one candidate is able to break through all the noise. That leaves the stage pretty wide open for a Democratic message. And Hillary Clinton has wisely chosen to run with President Obama and his record rather than against it. That means she’s looking pretty good right about now.
Whatever happens, this will be one for the history books as lame duckness is tossed aside and President Obama plays through to the end of the fourth quarter.
By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 1, 2015
In a soaring eulogy to the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, President Barack Obama spoke of grace’s power to heal, the nation’s enduring racial divide, and how last week’s killings in Emanuel AME Church offered a chance for a grieving country “to find our best selves.”
The president’s 38-minute oratory Friday reached deep into history, probing the lingering wounds of slavery and desegregation while celebrating Pinckney’s long-standing devotion to his ministry and the poor.
Bringing the crowd to its feet time and again, Obama called for continued efforts to furl the Confederate battle flag.
He decried the nation’s blindness “to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts on us.”
And, in one of the eulogy’s most surprising moments, he paused for eight seconds, looked down somberly, and sang “Amazing Grace.”
After the services, Obama, his wife, Michelle, Vice President Joe Biden, and his wife, Jill, had private meetings with the victims’ families.
Malcolm Graham, a former North Carolina state senator and brother of victim Cynthia Hurd, said the tone was solemn. “It was yet another citizen voicing his concern for us,” Graham said. But, “In this case, it was the president of the United States. We felt real good about him doing that.” Chris Singleton, the son of Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, said the meeting was “breathtaking.”
It was the first time Obama has visited Charleston since his first presidential campaign in 2008. And it came just 10 days after a white gunman was accused of opening fire in a Bible study class at Emanuel AME Church, killing Pinckney and eight others. It also came amid an increasingly heated debate over gun violence and racially charged incidents involving police, including the fatal shooting in April of Walter Scott in North Charleston.
But the mood throughout the services and afterward was joyful, even as the throng left the arena and plunged into the withering June sun. “What I like about the speech is the president didn’t spare the bitter medicine,” said North Charleston minister Nelson Rivers III, a vice president with the National Action Network. “The president went there. He went to the issue of race.”
Anticipation of the president’s visit was palpable throughout the week, and for many people, the services began hours before first light.
The Rev. Curtis Capers of Summerville was among those first to line up in Marion Square at 3:30 a.m. Three hours later, the line extended from Calhoun Street, up Meeting Street and about 100 yards around on Hutson Street. Capers, pastor of Honey Hill Baptist Church in Cottageville, said he came to pay his respects to Pinckney and other victims. “They were doing what God required them to do,” Capers said of their attendance in a Bible study class. “I believe they were ready to meet their Heavenly Father.”
Hundreds brought water, chairs, umbrellas and other supplies to help them through another hot summer morning until the TD Arena’s doors opened. By 10 a.m., lines outside the arena — steps away from Mother Emanuel — had broken down beyond the police barriers. “The gates of heaven won’t be like this,” a mourner said when he reached the arena gates. “They will be narrower, but there will be fewer.”
At 11 a.m., more than 5,900 people packed the arena, a record according to the College of Charleston, and hundreds of people were turned away. Inside, women in white dresses and men in black suits clapped their hands as a band played a joyful spiritual medley, and then “Amazing Grace.” Organizers handed out programs, which included two poems from Pinckney’s daughters, Eliana and Malana. The Rev. Norvel Goff, the interim pastor of Emanuel AME Church, drew standing ovations for his invocation: “This is no longer the TD Arena. We have transformed it into a sanctuary.”
The tributes began even as Air Force One was in the air and flying toward Charleston. Several dignitaries were introduced, including U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both of whom received standing ovations. When a woman yelled “Hillary!” from the audience,” Goff, the presiding elder, reminded everyone that they were in a sanctuary.
Speakers and members of the clergy sat in a long row that stretched across the arena floor. On the far left was a sign: “Wrong Church, Wrong People, Wrong Day.” One by one, the speakers went to the lectern, adorned with a purple church banner. They spoke of the potential of the tragedy to create positive change.
“His sacrifice must lead to reconciliation,” said state Sen. Gerald Malloy, who represents counties in the Pee Dee. “Clementa Pinckney’s last act as a Christian and as a senator was to open his doors to someone he did not know.” The Rev. John R. Bryant, senior bishop of the AME Church, had people on their feet after he said, “Someone should have told that young man … he wanted to start a race war. But he came to the wrong place.”
They stood again when Bryant credited the governor for her bold move to remove the flag from the Statehouse grounds. “Joy comes in the morning,” Bryant said. “Touch the person next to you and say, ‘Good morning.’ ”
Anticipation grew as the speakers went over their allotted time and word spread that the president and vice president had arrived.
‘Things not seen’
Since he was elected the nation’s first African-American president, Obama has been called on frequently to serve as consoler-in-chief: Three months after Obama was sworn in, a man killed 13 people at an immigration center in Binghamton, New York; seven months later, an Army psychiatrist fatally shot 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas; a year later, a 22-year-old opened fire at a Tucson supermarket, killing six and wounding 11, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords; six months later, a man shot and killed 12 people in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater; in 2012, a gunman shot 20 first-graders and six adults in Newtown, Conn.
When Obama took the podium Friday afternoon, he quickly introduced the eulogy’s central theme: Pinckney, the president said, was “a man who believed in things not seen, a man who believed there were better days ahead.”
Noting Pinckney’s smile and “reassuring baritone,” Obama described Pinckney’s remarkable career. “He was in the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23,” and how as a state senator for Allendale, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties, he “represented a sprawling swath of Lowcountry, a place that has long been one of the most neglected in America, a place still racked by poverty and inadequate schools, a place where children can still go hungry and the sick can go without treatment — a place that needed someone like Clem.”
Pinckney, he added, “embodied a politics that was neither mean nor small. He conducted himself quietly and kindly and diligently.”
Obama then shifted toward the killings and their surprising aftermath. “To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church. The church is and always has been the center of the African-American life.”
The president touched on Charleston’s response, led by the families of the victims.
“The alleged killer could never have anticipated how the families would respond,” he said. “Amid unspeakable grief,” they spoke about forgiveness and love. The arena came to its feet, and an organ played a few notes. “Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Rev. Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace.”
The crowd stood for another ovation as he spoke of Mother Emanuel — “a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founders sought to end slavery only to rise up again, a phoenix from these ashes.” Then, he took aim at the Confederate flag.
“For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred into many of our citizens,” he said, lauding Gov. Nikki Haley’s call to remove the flag from the Statehouse grounds. “As we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systematic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.”
He said putting the Confederate flag in its proper place was a first step toward healing the nation’s wounds, but “I don’t think God wants to stop there.” He spoke about how racial bias “can infect us even when we don’t realize it,” drawing one of the biggest cheers when he described the “subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal.”
Near the end, he returned to the personal impact the shootings had on him. “An open heart. That’s what I felt this week. An open heart.” He spoke of grace, and of how “if we can find that grace, anything is possible.” His voice lowered then, and he paused and led the arena in “Amazing Grace.” The crowd erupted in song and cheers. And his voice rose over the cheers as he said,
“Clementa Pinckney found that grace …
“Cynthia Hurd found that grace …
“Susie Jackson found that grace …
“Ethel Lance found that grace …
“DePayne Middleton Doctor found that grace …
“Tywanza Sanders found that grace …
“Daniel L. Simmons Sr. found that grace …
“Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace …
“Myra Thompson found that grace.”
Note: Robert Behre, Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes, Hanna Raskin, Brenda Ringe, Christina Elmore and Melissa Boughton and Jeff Hartsell contributed to this report.
Obama speech excerpts
“I cannot claim to have the good fortune to know Reverend Pinckney well. But I did have the pleasure of knowing him and meeting him here in South Carolina, back when we were both a little bit younger. … The first thing I noticed was his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humor — all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly a heavy burden of expectation.”
“Cynthia Hurd. Susie Jackson. Ethel Lance. DePayne Middleton-Doctor. Tywanza Sanders. Daniel L. Simmons. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Myra Thompson. Good people. Decent people. God-fearing people. People so full of life and so full of kindness. People who ran the race, who persevered. People of great faith.”
“It’s true, a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge — including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise — as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.”
“Over the course of centuries, black churches served as ‘hush harbors’ where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah; rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement. They have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice; places of scholarship and network; places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter.”
“We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history. But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. … An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion. An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin. Oh, but God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas.”
“For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation…. The vast majority of Americans — the majority of gun owners — want to do something about this. We see that now.”
“None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy. It will not. People of goodwill will continue to debate the merits of various policies, as our democracy requires — this is a big, raucous place, America is. And there are good people on both sides of these debates. Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete. But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.”
“The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley — how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond — not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.”
“Clem understood … that history can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past — how to break the cycle.”
“What a good man. Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogized — after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say someone was a good man.”
“Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong, the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong. It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history.”
“By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace. But I don’t think God wants us to stop there. For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.”
“If we can find that grace, anything is possible. If we can tap that grace, everything can change.”
“As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves.”
“Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it on to us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure. May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.”
— Compiled by Robert Behre.
By: Schuyler Kropf and Tony Bartelme, The Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina,Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, June 26, 2015
For a long time, the conventional wisdom has been that Hillary Clinton needs to “distance herself” from Barack Obama. It’s something we hear in just about every presidential election that comes at the end of a two-term presidency, as the candidate from the same party as the departing president is told that “distancing” is key. This line is repeated whether the president is popular, unpopular, or something in between.
But if you actually look at what Clinton has been saying, it’s been hard to find any distance at all between her and the President. So if she’s worried about creating that distance, it isn’t in evidence yet.
For instance, campaigning yesterday in South Carolina, Clinton spent her time telling African-American voters that she and the President are as close as can be:
But the message Mrs. Clinton got across was specific, and it was clear: She was on Barack Obama’s side from the moment she conceded the nomination to him in 2008, she had done everything she could to help him in office, and she would follow through on much of his agenda if she were elected to succeed him.
“Some of you may remember we had a pretty vigorous campaign in 2008,” she joked, knowingly, to an approving crowd of lawmakers, local Democratic officials and others. She added, “Both President Obama and I worked really hard.”
“I went to work for him” as secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton said, “because he and I share many of the same positions about what should be done in the next presidency.”
One might argue that this only happened because she was speaking to an African-American audience, among whom Obama retains enormous loyalty. But African-Americans are the Democratic Party’s core constituency, and encouraging strong turnout among them is critical to any Democratic nominee; this won’t be the last time she does something similar.
Furthermore, it’s hard to find issues she’s discussed so far in the campaign where there’s much “distance” at all between her and Obama. That isn’t to say Clinton is going to take the identical position as Obama on everything; for instance, she’s been vague about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, suggesting she may end up opposing it. But in general, the “move to the left” people have noted in Clinton’s positions has essentially made her more in tune with Obama’s presidency than with her husband’s. Much of that is just about the evolution of their party; if Bill Clinton was running today, he’d be more liberal on many issues than he was 20 years ago, too. But the effect is to draw her closer to Obama.
Whether you believe that Clinton is taking a more liberal stance than she has in the past on issues like immigration or paid family leave because of conviction or calculation, the fact is that those positions are extremely popular. And there isn’t much the Obama administration has done overall that is crying out for distancing. Obama hasn’t had any monumental scandals or screw-ups on the scale of the Lewinsky affair or the Iraq War. His most controversial policy achievement is the Affordable Care Act — which Clinton has embraced wholeheartedly.
Reporters are going to continue to pore over Clinton’s statements with Talmudic care to try to find any evidence of distance between her and Obama. But in reality, if anyone’s working to distance themselves from a president, it’s Republicans trying to shuffle away from George W. Bush, despite the fact that he left office over six years ago.
Clinton won’t be identical to Obama, for the simple reason that they’re different people. Though they come from the same party and thus agree on most things, there will no doubt be an issue here or there on which she promises something slightly different. But let’s not forget that as much as Republicans despise Obama, he did get elected twice. If Clinton can hold his coalition together, she’ll win, too. So she has a lot more incentive to stick with him than to distance herself.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 28, 2015
As violence erupted in Baltimore last night, President Obama spoke directly with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and the White House issued a statement stressing “the administration’s commitment to provide assistance as needed.”
Today, however, the president had quite a bit more to say on the subject.
President Obama said there was “no excuse” for the violent rioting Monday on the streets of Baltimore, which saw looting and fires break out after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of a severe spinal injury while in police custody a little over a week ago. At the same time, the president put the crisis in Maryland’s largest city into a national context, focusing on unemployment, poverty and the education gap that plagues some communities of color.
“We can’t just leave this to the police,” Obama said Tuesday in a White House press conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “There are some police departments that have to do some searching. There are some communities that have to do some soul searching. But our country needs to do some soul searching. This is not new. It’s been going on for decades.”
Obama, speaking without prepared remarks on the subject, acknowledged that he feels “pretty strongly” about the subject. It showed.
For those who can’t watch clips online, the president’s remarks are worth reading in detail. Note, for example, the way in which the president focuses initially on specific developments in Baltimore before transitioning to a much broader context:
First, obviously, our thoughts continue to be with the family of Freddie Gray. Understandably, they want answers.
And DOJ has opened an investigation. It is working with local law enforcement to find out exactly what happened, and I think there should be full transparency and accountability.
Second, my thoughts are with the police officers who were injured in last night’s disturbances. It underscores that that’s a tough job, and we have to keep that in mind. And my hope is that they can heal and get back to work as soon as possible.
Point number three, there’s no excuse for the kind of violence that we saw yesterday. It is counterproductive. When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting, they’re not making a statement, they’re stealing.
When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson. And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities that rob jobs and opportunity from people in that area.
So it is entirely appropriate that the mayor of Baltimore, who I spoke to yesterday, and the governor, who I spoke to yesterday, work to stop that kind of senseless violence and destruction. That is not a protest, that is not a statement, it’s people – a handful of people taking advantage of the situation for their own purposes, and they need to be treated as criminals.
Point number four, the violence that happened yesterday distracted from the fact that you had seen multiple days of peaceful protests that were focused on entirely legitimate concerns of these communities in Baltimore led by clergy and community leaders, and they were constructive and they were thoughtful. And frankly, didn’t get that much attention. And one burning building will be looped on television over and over and over again, and the thousands of demonstrators who did it the right way, I think, have been lost in the discussion.
The overwhelming majority of the community in Baltimore, I think, have handled this appropriately, expressing real concern and outrage over the possibility that our laws were not applied evenly in the case of Mr. Gray and that accountability needs to exist.
I think we have to give them credit. My understanding is you’ve got some of the same organizers now going back into these communities to try to clean up in the aftermath of a handful of protesters – a handful of criminals and thugs who tore up the place.
What they were doing – what those community leaders and clergy and others were doing, that is a statement. That’s the kind of organizing that needs to take place if we’re going to tackle this problem. And they deserve credit for it and we should be lifting them up.
Point number five, and I’ve got six, because this is important. Since Ferguson and the task force that we put together, we have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals, primarily African American, often poor, in ways that raise troubling questions. And it comes up, it seems like, once a week now or once every couple of weeks.
And so I think it’s pretty understandable why the leaders of civil rights organizations, but more importantly moms and dads across the country might start saying this is a crisis. What I’d say is this has been a slow-rolling crisis. This has been going on for a long time. This is not new. And we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new.
The good news is that perhaps there’s some newfound awareness because of social media and video cameras and so forth that there are – are problems and challenges when it comes to how policing and our laws are applied in certain communities, and we have to pay attention to it and respond.
What’s also good news is the task force that was made up of law enforcement and community activists that we brought together here in the White House had come up with very constructive, concrete proposals that if adopted by local communities and by states and by counties, by law enforcement generally, would make a difference. Wouldn’t solve every problem, but would make a concrete difference in rebuilding trust and making sure that the overwhelming majority of effective, honest and fair law enforcement officers, that they’re able to do their job better because it will weed out or retrain or put a stop to those handful who may be not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
Now, the challenge for us as the federal government is is that we don’t run these police forces. I can’t federalize every police force in the country and force them to retrain. But what I can do is to start working with them collaboratively so that they can begin this process of change themselves. And we – coming out of the task force that we put together, we’re now working with local communities. The Department of Justice has just announced a grant program for those jurisdiction that want to purchase body cameras. We are gonna be issuing grants for those jurisdictions that are prepared to start trying to implement some of the new training and data collection and other things that can make a difference. And we’re gonna keep on working with those local jurisdictions so that they can begin to make the changes that are necessary.
I think it’s gonna be important for organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police and other police unions and organizations to acknowledge that this is not good for police. We have to own up to the fact that occasionally there are gonna be problems here, just as there are in every other occupation.
There are – there are some bad politicians, who are corrupt. And there are folks in the business community or on Wall Street who don’t do the right thing. Well, there are some police who aren’t doing the right thing. And rather than close ranks, you know, what we’ve seen is a number of thoughtful police chiefs and commissioners and others recognize, they’ve got to get their arms around this thing and work together with the community to solve the problem.
And we’re committed to facilitating that process. So the heads of our COPS (ph) agency that helps with community policing, they’re already out in Baltimore. Our head – assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division is already out in Baltimore.
But we’re gonna be working systematically with every city and jurisdiction around the country to try to help them implement some solutions that we know work.
And I’ll make my final point – I’m sorry, Mr. Prime Minister, but this is a pretty important issue for us – we can’t just leave this to the police. I think there are police departments that have to do some soul searching. I think there are some communities that have to do some soul searching.
But I think we, as a country, have to do some soul searching. This is not new. It’s been going on for decades. And without making any excuses for criminal activities that take place in these communities, what we also know is that if you have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty. They’ve got parents, often, because of substance abuse problems or incarceration or lack of education themselves, can’t do right by their kids.
If it’s more likely that those kids end up in jail or dead than that they go to college. In communities where there are no fathers who can provide guidance to young men. Communities where there’s no investment and manufacturing’s been stripped away. And drugs have flooded the community, and the drug industry ends up being the primary employer for a whole lot of folks.
In those environments, if we think that we’re just gonna send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there, without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we’re not gonna solve this problem. And we’ll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets. And everybody will feign concern until it goes away and then we go about our business as usual.
If we are serious about solving this problem, then we’re going to not only have to help the police, we’re going to have to think about what can we do, the rest of us, to make sure that we’re providing early education to these kids; to make sure that we’re reforming our criminal justice system so it’s not just a pipeline from schools to prisons, so that we’re not rendering men in these communities unemployable because of a felony record for a non-violent drug offense; that we’re making investments so that they can get the training they need to find jobs.
That’s hard, that requires more than just the occasional news report or task force, and there’s a bunch of my agenda that would make a difference right now in that. Now, I’m under no illusion that out of this Congress we’re going to get massive investments in urban communities, and so we’ll try to find areas where we can make a difference around school reform and around job training and around some investments in infrastructure in these communities and trying to attract new businesses in.
But if we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could. It’s just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant, and that we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns and we don’t just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped. We’re paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids and we think they’re important and they shouldn’t be living in poverty and violence.
That’s how I feel. I think they’re a lot of good-meaning people around the country that feel that way.
But that kind of political mobilization, I think we haven’t seen in quite some time. And what I’ve tried to do is to promote those ideas that would make a difference, but I think we all understand that the politics of that are tough, because it’s too easy to ignore those problems or to treat them just as a law-and-order issue as opposed to a broader social issue.
That was a really long answer, but I felt pretty strongly about it.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 28, 2015