President needs to lead in Ferguson

Why isn’t President Barack Obama on the front lines in Ferguson, Mo?

It’s a question pundits have raised in the wake of sustained clashes between police and protesters (and opportunistic looters) over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a white officer in the largely black suburb of St. Louis.

Make no mistake, the president has been vocal in his calls to end violent confrontations. He’s taken an even-handed tone, asserting the right for peaceful protests, but saying there’s no excuse for looting or antagonizing police. But that message is getting lost between Washington, D.C. and St. Louis County.

We think the president would be far more effective in making a personal appearance in Ferguson. As the only black president in U.S. history and a constitutional scholar to boot, Obama is uniquely suited to ask the people of Ferguson to show some faith in the system — no matter how slowly the wheels of justice seem to turn. Shouldn’t he defuse a racially charged atmosphere?

No, says Jonathan Capehart, a member of the Washington Post’s editorial board. The president should be commended for not indulging in showy theatrics “that might make people feel good in the short-term, but do nothing to advance a greater cause.”

The president, Capehart wrote, has done everything he can, including dispatching U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, also African-American, to the scene to personally oversee a federal investigation of the shooting. The systemic problems that gave rise to the shooting can’t be solved in a 15-minute speech.

But New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd frames Ferguson in the context of Obama’s growing aloofness. The president’s disdain for partisan squabbles has alienated many supporters within his own party, leaving him few allies to manage crises like Ferguson. The president who once touted himself as a uniter who could rise above the partisan fray “turns out to be a singularly unequipped to operate in a polarized environment,” Dowd wrote. “... the country needs its president to illuminate and lead, not sink into some petulant expression of his own aloofness, where he regards himself as a party of his own and a victim of petty, needy, bickering egomanics.”

An appearance in Ferguson would answer critics. But more importantly it could help the community move beyond this singular event and start working on long-term solutions to pressing inequities. It would also be a golden opportunity to remind the people of Ferguson that they have the power, to not only demand change, but to effectuate it through the ballot box.

Indeed the president’s first question might be: “Ferguson is two-thirds black. Why don’t you have better representation on the city council?”

As Dowd points out, F.D.R. welcomed the hatred of his biggest critics. Because he believed in what he was doing, he carried a country’s confidence on his shoulders. President Obama has little time left in office to leave a legacy. Helping America heal its racial divisions should rank high for a president who is biracial. Maybe tackling a problem like Ferguson will incite some passion in the president and lead him out of an exile of his own making.


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The Sentinel’s editorial – “President needs to lead in Ferguson”—and Glenn Menard’s letter – “Government handouts to blame in Ferguson” – afford timely insight into the state of race relations in suburbanized formerly all-white communities.

Apparently, the Sentinel’s definition of “lead” necessarily entails President Obama traveling to Missouri.  However, such a visit is both unnecessary and unwise.

First, as evidenced by the swirling unpredictability of world events, President Obama has other pressing matters to tend to – even on vacation (where the nuclear “football” and his exclusive responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief follow him wherever he goes).

Second, the last thing Ferguson needs in the midst of street riots and random gunfire is a presidential motorcade and an augmented army of Secret Service agents on the ground.

Third, efficient governance requires a division of labor.  Thus, while President Obama is tending to international security issues, Attorney General Eric Holder and 40+ FBI agents are focused on restoring domestic tranquility and pursuing a credible investigation.

Fourth, President Obama would predictably be “damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t”.  Thus, if the President were to travel to Ferguson, he would be criticized for “playing the race card”, seeking a gratuitous “photo op”, and potentially prejudicing the prosecution of the officer who shot the unarmed black teenager.  Holder’s visit is entirely defensible because he is our chief law enforcement officer and his Agents are there. 

Meanwhile, Ferguson sorely needs “community organizers”.  Reportedly, even though 70% black, less then half of Ferguson’s eligible black voters are registered, and only 5% of them voted in the last local election.  Consequently, five white council members ran unopposed – and the all-white school board fired the black superintendent of schools.

Nevertheless, the Missouri G.O.P. is now “outraged” by voter registration booths in Ferguson!  Hmmmm, Menard “blames it on the government”?

Not Freida Cook - Am a relative - Patrick Rodgers - Surely you jest about Obama sticking his nose into the local incident in Missouri.  Frankly, Obama couldn’t lead a piss ant around the toilet bowl and his Foreign Policy has been a dismal failure around the world.  Why on earth would the President get involved in Ferguson after he got burned so bad on the Travon Martin case?  In the end, the investigation will show that it was a justified shooting, the Officer was doing his job and that the knee jerk reaction by the race baiters, was solely because the suspect was black.  Obama and Holder need to stay in Washington D.C. and do the job we pay them to do.

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