Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Racially Divisive President

Was Obama to blame for the Dallas Police shootings? It's seems unlikely: he has a pretty good alibi (he says he was in 'Poland' at the time)--but could he have been? That's one of the charges--that Obama is so racially divisive that an active, race-based shooter is the sort of thing one could expect.

What exactly was his divisive rhetoric? What did Obama do to inspire the guy who went out there and shot five police officers in the back?

Let's see.

If The Omnivore Had A Demonstration, It Would Look Like Dallas

When looking for Obama's divisiveness on race, let's look at the allegations and the evidence. What is he saying? What is he said to be saying? What does it mean? Let's start with Noah Rothman's Inconvenient Attacks, Vague Language which claims that Obama is responsible (at least to some large degree) in the worsening of race relations by virtue of his rhetoric.

Exhibit A: Trayvon Martin

Speaking in the Rose Garden, after an unrelated announcement, Obama took questions and was asked about the Martin shooting.
"I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together — federal, state and local — to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.”

If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.”
The Charge: The charge is that Obama weighed in imprudently. Basically that he sided with Treyvon via linguistic adoption before (a) the facts were known and (b) on a racially polarizing incident that was a local matter.

Response: It was certainly perceived by both sides ('both sides') as pro-Martin. Zimmerman said the president should have acted like a leader and said to wait until all the facts were in. Martin's parents called it a "beautiful tribute".

Divisive? The shooting was certainly polarizing. It polarized along a number of lines, not all of them racial, and it had the added heat of media bias where the media promoted a narrative (that Zimmerman hunted and killed Trayvon--and then lied about being attacked) which was not accurate. Was Obama racially divisive to weigh in on this?

Analysis: As the first African American president, it is The Omnivore's opinion that Obama has to address racially charged issues. To simply remain silent would be a kind of dereliction of duty in the other direction. This was the context when Obama was asked about the event (it was, after all, national news). The question is what should he have said?

Looking at his statement, he:

  1. Spoke to the grief of the parents. This is, or should, be seen as universal and compassionate.
  2. Said that we need to get all the facts, have a full investigation, and figure out what happened. This is what his critics have called for.
  3. Spoke to his personal response which was, probably truthfully, to think of his own kids.
If you find that divisive, that is your own problem. 

Exhibit B: The Beer Summit

In 2009 Henry Louis Gates Jr. was returning from abroad. When he reached his house he couldn't get the door open, forced it, and entered. A neighbor called 9-1-1 and the police came, confronted Gates, and then, in a verbal altercation where Gates exited his house to yell at the officer, arrested Gates for disorderly conduct. The charge was later dropped.
"I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home, and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there's a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately."
The Charge: Impugning the integrity of the police department by saying the officer acted stupidly.

Response: The PD promised an investigation and got one. They also defended the police officer and rebuked the president for speaking, by his own admission, without all the facts. Obama apologized and organized the infamous "beer summit" where Gates, the officer, and Obama all had a beer at the White House.

Divisive? The statement, although measured, did, in fact link the behavior of the officer and the police department to a larger issue of racial policing and called the arrest stupid. That is divisive.

Analysis: It has been noted that (a) this was an off-the-cuff speech and that (b) Gates is a personal friend of Obama's (the officer noted that he'd probably side with his friend too--and Obama admitted he was biased by the friendship). Secondly, Obama apologized. If Obama is going to be held accountable for everything that comes out of his mouth (a standard most of us would not want in the grand scheme of things) he needs to be able to apologize for it as well.

Secondly, given both the measured nature of his statements--the "linkage to racial policing" includes the words 'separate and apart from this incident' and opens with the admission that he does not have all the facts--is far too weak to pin the charge of hating-on-police on Obama.

The fact that this event--a remark about something that happened to a personal friend seven years ago--is Exhibit B in the racial divisiveness category is . . .. telling.

Exhibit C: Opposition To Obama Is Racist

This doesn't get to Law and Order (there is no explicit police link)--but for sure, a lot of people think that racism is a major factor held against Obama instead of, you know, policy. Here is the list Noah Rothman links to: A Time-Line of Liberals Claiming Opposition To Obama = Racism

The Charge: Obama's re-election campaign used racism as a wedge issue.

Analysis: Obama didn't say any of this so it's hard to pin it directly on him. He has, however, said other things (he doesn't look like other presidents on the dollar bills--is he talking about powdered wigs?). While it is naive to think that racism isn't an element in the first black presidency, it is also likely that there is some leverage of that by Obama and his supporters. The link above, however, doesn't make the case.

Exhibit D: Obama's Racist Remarks Getting Cops Killed

The NY Post finds that Obama is saying cops are racist and his false statistics are getting them killed.
  • "African Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites" -- but does not mention they commit murders at 6x the rate of whites
  • African-American and Hispanic population, who make up only 30 percent of the general population, make up more than half of the incarcerated population," -- but does not say that gangs commit 80% of the crimes in the US and 82% of gangs are black or Hispanic
  • "[Blacks] receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.” - but does not note that (a) the crimes and criminals might not be identical and (b) whites suffer more lost income from imprisonment--so when will Obama speak out about THAT racial disparity??
The Charge: Obama saying misleading things about cops is leading to an environment of justifying police hatred--which is is getting more and more police killed.

Response: While there has been no response from Obama for this, there are a lot of data-related studies running around. For example: Study Finds That Cops Don't Use Lethal Force More Often Against Blacks Than Whites--but does find other forms of force used more often.

On the flip side: 

The violence in communities does NOT correlate to police violence (i.e. the charge that police are justifiably more violent in high murder-rate communities does not hold up).

Divisive? Obama thinks there is a problem with racial policing in the country. A lot of people agree. A lot of people don't agree. He uses, some would say cherry-picks--stats that agree with him. He doesn't use facts that disagree with him. Is this divisive? The Omnivore thinks that for it to be divisive there actually has to be more than saying "there is a problem here." 

Analysis: According to, at least this statistic, police deaths are down under Obama:


Obama drives people crazy by refusing to say the things they want him to say. He doesn't say "Radical Islam." Apparently that makes a really big difference (even though Obama is clearly fighting the psychological/communications war he needs to be). Obama failed to call out racism in the Dallas shooter--even though he clearly was racist. This enrages Obama's critics--but is that getting police officers killed? Servicemen killed? The Omnivore doesn't think so.

Obama walks a line between being a leader and also being a member of the black community. In order to be both there will need to be compromises. What he cannot afford to do is "sell out" to one side or another. Of the four exhibits we see here, only one reaches the level of selling out--and he apologized for that one and walked it back.

Obama is not the problem here. It's something else.

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