Ezra Klein: Obama Afraid To Rip America Apart With Ferguson

U.S. President Barack Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama


Ezra Klein’s formerly useful explainer site Vox.com now appears to be chiefly devoted to explaining how President Obama ruins everything. Last week, Obama was breaking politics,” and this week, he’s narrowly avoiding dividing the nation by toning down his remarks on the killing of Mike Brown by Ferguson, Missouri policeman Darren Wilson.

This afternoon, President Obama gave another surprise press conference, at which he discussed developments in Iraq, as well as the situation in Ferguson, and took several questions. Klein begins by summing the whole thing up this way:

The main news in Obama’s remarks was that Attorney General Eric Holder will be traveling to Ferguson — which mostly highlights that Obama has not traveled to Ferguson, and has no plans to do so.

To the careful listener, there was actually a lot more news in this presser than that, which I’ll get to in a minute, but right off the bat, he’s introducing an expectation that no one has seriously placed on the President: that he travel to Ferguson. It has been a rough week-plus in Missouri, no doubt about it, but this is not Katrina. Hell, it’s barely a Keith Urban concert. As the President said on his speech, most of the protests have been peaceful, and what violence there has been has been mostly from non-residents. The people of Ferguson don’t need President Obama to calm them down.

As Klein notes, the reviews weren’t great from the folks that some of my Twitter followers calls Blacker Than Thou, Inc.”, and chalks the President’s “clinical” remarks up to a desire not to ruin things the way he always does:

President Obama might still decide to give a speech about events in Ferguson. But it probably won’t be the speech many of his supporters want. When Obama gave the first Race Speech he was a unifying figure trying to win the Democratic nomination. Today he’s a divisive figure who needs to govern the whole country. The White House never forgets that. There probably won’t be another Race Speech because the White House doesn’t believe there can be another Race Speech. For Obama, the cost of becoming president was sacrificing the unique gift that made him president.

Now, there’s probably some truth to the analysis that the White House would have liked to have avoided things like the Skip Gates brouhaha, but that’s not because President Obama is a divisive figure, it’s because white people, especially conservatives, are gaping assholes. President Obama was absolutely right, the Cambridge Police did act stupidly by arresting Professor Henry Louis Gates in his own home, unless Gates got convicted of something and we all missed it.

Klein is also wrong that President Obama has avoided such controversies during his presidency, unless we all imagined the blistering Shitnado that followed his empathetic remarks about Trayvon Martin’s killing, or his uncompromising critique of racism in America following the George Zimmerman verdict. There’s a much simpler reason that President Obama didn’t get all “passionate” at today’s press conference, and he gave it from the podium:

Maybe Klein missed that episode of Schoolhouse Rock. The President is sending Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson, and hopefully, he will put a stop to the mayhem being done to the investigation by local authorities. If pressure needs to be applied, that is where it needs to go, not to insisting that the President show up to take Ferguson to church. Now, once a verdict has been rendered in whatever legal proceeding stems from this investigation, you might see a good deal more “passion” from the President.

As for the negative reviews, Klein seems to misunderstand the function of “Blacker Than Thou, Inc.”, which is not to weigh the political calculus involved in presidential actions, but to be a factor in that calculus. Nobody expects President Obama to morph into an activist on that podium, but they have to push for that, because that’s what activists do.

On the news front, the President indicated, much more strongly, that he is exerting pressure and influence on Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, at one point saying, of Nixon’s National Guard deployment, that “I’ll be watching over the next several days to assess whether, in fact, it’s helping rather than hindering progress in Ferguson,” and as you heard him tell Ann Compton, he feels a duty to “mak(e) sure that (the Mike Brown investigation is) conducted in a way that is transparent, where there’s accountability, where people can trust the process.”

If the local authorities continue to conduct themselves like Boss Hogg’s in-laws, the President and/or AG Holder may press Nixon for a change of venue, and the President’s willingness to telegraph this level of involvement is significant.

On the Iraq front, the President has now gone from saying “American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again” in June, to saying, today, that “we are not reintroducing thousands of U.S. troops back on the ground to engage in combat,” a significant bit of rhetoric creep that seemed to fly right by everyone on the briefing room. Put a pin in that.

Finally, on a personal note, the President had some very kind remarks for ABC News Radio White House Correspondent Ann Compton, who is retiring. As a longtime colleague of Ann’s, I couldn’t agree more with the President when he said “we’re going to miss you, and we’re very, very proud of the extraordinary career and work that you’ve done, and we hope you’re not a stranger around here.”

Here’s the full video of the President’s press conference, including the two-minute pre-roll (you can skip that if you like, but it’s a great window into how the news gets made):


While Barack Obama seems obsessed with Ukraine, ISIL, Syria, and Iraq… allocating billions of dollars to wars he can’t win, and offering to train the Ukrainian National Guard (war expenses to be paid by tax payers), and their Neo-Nazi commander,  there are serious problems here at home, like the killing of  Mike Brown by Ferguson, Missouri policeman Darren Wilson, and the deployment of the military to “calm down” peaceful protests on the streets by the local residents denouncing police brutality and racial bias.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Even the US’s smallest towns can be instantly turned into occupied territories as local police agencies quickly transform themselves from peacekeepers into occupying military forces. The small town of Ferguson, Missouri, is living proof of that.


The London Guardian covers the story:

Why are white people scared of black people’s rage at Mike Brown’s death?

Because ‘working together’ on Ferguson means nothing unless white privilege gets used for change – and defers to the black experience

We live in a society where this little girl has to spell this out. Photograph: Rebecca Barnett / AP

We live in a society where this little girl has to spell this out. Photograph: Rebecca Barnett / AP

In the days since 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed in broad daylight by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri – amid the flurry of media coverage, the teargas and the wooden bullets, the shameless character shaming of Brown, and the gut-sick heartbreak of his family – all I keep thinking is: Make it stop, white people.

You are the ones who created this godforsaken racist system by using your circumstantial power and privilege 400 years ago to institutionalize white supremacy. Now use that power and privilege you still have, 400 years later, to dismantle it.

And please don’t quibble about whether you have any direct lineage to the architects of racism. You are benefitting from it, so you have a direct responsibility to figure out how to undo it. Because maybe you’ve seen what happens when we black people try to undo it in 2014 – they call in the National Guard.

In between talking with my son to both protect him from the same fate as Michael Brown and empower him to walk tall in his skin, I have tweeted and posted on Facebook about this all week to no avail. Some white friends and acquaintances have said their silence is not complicity, or that we all need to work together. More pointedly, it was suggested in one thread comment that my upbringing – adopted by two white parents and raised in a majority white town – imparts a certain privilege that does not allow me to truly understand the racism toward black people in places like Ferguson.

But cops in places like Ferguson don’t see my white parents – that I learned early on. Since my parents, with the best of intentions, downplayed the significance of racism and racial inequality in our family, as a kid I felt as entitled to living, breathing and cultivating a full-on, ass-out, individual personality with big opinions as much as any white kid. But when I entered the real world, my opinions become angry accusations, and my individuality became threatening.

My parents’ liberal ideals of a race-blind world were gorgeous in their romanticism, but they neglected to consider what might happen should my individual body end up in a place like Ferguson, Missouri … in which case all the gorgeous romanticism in the world wouldn’t save me from being teargassed or shot to death.

Even if I had ended up in Ferguson, and my white parents happened to have been visiting me last week, well, who would really try and argue that the police – dressed in their camouflage, armed with their heavy artillery, driven by a militaristic us-and-them state of mind – wouldn’t kindly have asked my parents to step aside while they kept their guns pointed squarely at me?

Darren Wilson, the cop who shot Michael Brown, didn’t know whether his victim was headed to college or a high school drop-out, a straight-edge or had THC remnants in his blood, whether Brown was looking for a good flat stretch of pavement to skateboard or an unlocked car door, any more than Wilson would have known that I was raised by white people in New Hampshire, or that I bristle at authority, that I am defiant as hell, or that I sometimes drink too much wine.

That cop in Ferguson saw what he was looking for: a big, black, dangerous man, because that’s what white people learn to see. And no amount of “us” behaving better is going to change that calculus for white people: white people have to change it themselves.

To me, being black is about the brown of my skin, the dream-memories of high cotton, hymns, hollers and the soft backsides of nut-colored hands against my cheek. It is about the refuge I feel in the face of another black person, and the intrinsic joy at the base of my belly when I enter a room full of black people. But it is also about enduring racism on a daily basis, and often swallowing my rage and my pride in order to teach my son what it means to be black and endangered as he walks down the street.

So when I call for white people to get woke and get real serious about how you can use your privilege to make change, I don’t want to hear how I’m not like those black people in Ferguson. The cops in Ferguson or on Staten Island don’t care – don’t think – that I’m a “different kind of” black. The Detroit man who shot Renisha McBride in the face didn’t ask about her educational achievements. The North Carolina cop who shot and killed the unarmed football player didn’t ask him what color his parents are. The white guy walking down the street in Manhattan last year after George Zimmerman’s acquittal – the one who said to me, “poor Trayvon” – he didn’t turn and say it to a white woman.

I’m just black to them – and you’re white. You need to come for your own. Maybe start with the still existing New Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who are currently raising money in support of Darren Wilson, “a cop who shot a n*gger criminal”. But when black people’s anger is demonized, pathologized and criminalized – when it’s never seen as righteous, when we’re being gassed in the streets for it – don’t tell me you’re afraid of making black people angry by speaking up, or that my anger feels isolating to you. Because then I have to wonder if the people whose anger you really fear are white.