It was a marvelous speech.Well-crafted, delivered impeccably with his trademark blend of understated passion, compelling logic and strategic self-deprecation.I watched Wednesday as President Barack Obama addressed the Illinois General Assembly. Despite his seven-year crusade for change, he acknowledged his failure to bring bipartisanship and compromise to Washington D.C. He offered a powerful lesson.In a big, complicated democracy like ours, if we can’t compromise, by definition, we can’t govern ourselves.Yet, in that 60-minute speech, there was not one word about what matters so much to so many who elected him: Race matters. Black lives matter. Not a word.OPINION Follow @MediaDervish
Just a presidential helicopter ride from his adopted city, the place he calls home, black Chicagoans are reeling from a triple terror: a viciously high murder rate; decades-long history of police abuse and misconduct; pernicious unemployment and poverty. Along with much of urban America.
Obama offered no reflections or prescriptions about what that means for the nation.
Nine years ago, I watched in a February freeze as then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama stood on the Illinois State Capitol steps to announce his presidential bid. I interviewed David Axelrod, a key architect of Obama’s election as the first black president. Axelrod declared that Obama’s election would represent “a turning of the page” in American politics.
I had the audacity to hope that new page would write a new American book on racial equity and equal opportunity.
Yes, Obama did not cometo Springfield to talk about race.
Yet I was reminded, once again, of the most signal disappointment of the Obama presidency.
“Obama prefers being seen as a black presidentrather than the blackpresident,” Michael Eric Dyson wrote in his new book, “The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America.”
I recently interviewed Dyson at a Chicago Humanities Festival event. The cultural critic and Georgetown University professor offers high praise and admiration for Obama, but also a searing critique.
Obama has failed to use his office, the world’s most powerful bully pulpit, to highlight and tackle the plight of black America, he says. “If he goes down in history as one of the greatest presidents ever, it will not be race that wins him that plaudit.”
In the book, Dyson analyzed Obama’s speeches, rhetoric and initiatives, and concluded that Obama has done less than many of his predecessors to address America’s legacy of racial inequity, from Jim Crow to Michael Brown.
“Black people were at a deficit with this president.”
Follow @MediaDervishYes, Obama faced a vicious, unrelenting opposition to his presidency. Yes, Obama had to rescue the United States froma financial and economic meltdown. Yes, he tackled terrorism abroad and at home, from Osama bin Laden to ISIS to Sandy Hook.He has saved the financial system, the auto industry, brought health care to millions, and so much more. So he can take on race.I still believe in the power of this black presidency. Now, in its twilight, Obama has little to lose, politically. No one has more power to call whites to accept a shared responsibility for the remnants of racism, and no one can make a more powerful case for why black lives matter.The pulpit awaits. Air Force One stands by, to wing Obama to Chicago, to Ferguson, to anywhere, to make those speeches, to make initiatives.There’s still time. So I cling, oh so audaciously, to hope.Email: email@example.com
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