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  #1  
Old 07-19-2013, 03:43 PM
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Default Obama and the Problem of Federal Paternalist Rhetoric

So, as some of you who assiduously stay tuned to news throughout the day already know, President Obama recently commented on the death of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-...-35-years-ago/

His disappointment with Martin's death, the trial's outcome, and Florida's Stand Your Ground law (even though the law was not used in George Zimmerman's defense) should be apparent to anyone who reads the above story or watches the video it contains. After reading about Obama's statements, I only had one question to ask: Why is this any of his god-damned business?

I am well aware of the fact that, as a head of state, the President of the United States is obliged to visit, publicly acknowledge, and offer moral support to those areas of the country that have been struck by devastation or tragedy. After all, what kind of leader wouldn't visit Ground Zero, K-ville, Sandy Hook, or victims of the Boston Marathon bombing? As the head of our national government, though, what business does Obama have in publicly opining on state-level matters that show no flagrant oversight of the rights that the Constitution affords to all of us?

I would argue that the greatest thing about America is the diversity among her states, a diversity that wholly stems from our federal style of government and the police power given to each and every state. After this speech, President Obama should go back to his Constitutional Law casebook for a refresher, just as he should have when he involved himself in the Henry Louis Gates arrest controversy and just as he should when he decides to do the same thing again in the future.
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Old 07-19-2013, 04:39 PM
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Obama's not just the President. He is unequivocally the leader of the black community. Having achieved the highest office a black man ever has he faces enormous pressure from civil rights activists to speak out in cases like these. He's not going to actually do anything in these cases but he's certainly within his rights, as a citizen of the United States, to express an opinion on the matter. He's just trying to play the peacekeeper.
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Old 07-19-2013, 05:47 PM
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Obama is a citizen of the United States and this is the hottest topic in the country right now. Being President comes with several perks and one of them is the bully pulpit: Obama's statements don't have any actual force behind them but a lot of people are going to listen to what he says because he's the President.

He didn't introduce a law, he didn't instruct Congress to look into anything, he didn't set up a task force, he didn't do anything official. He gave his opinion on the hottest topic in America which relates to a major policy he recently worked on with gun control. Nothing more.
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Old 07-19-2013, 06:30 PM
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A full transcript of Obama's remarks:

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I wanted to come out here, first of all, to tell you that Jay is prepared for all your questions and is very much looking forward to the session. The second thing is I want to let you know that over the next couple of weeks, there's going to obviously be a whole range of issues -- immigration, economics, et cetera -- we'll try to arrange a fuller press conference to address your questions.

The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week -- the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling. I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday. But watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.

First of all, I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle's, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they've dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they're going through, and it's remarkable how they've handled it.

The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there's going to be a lot of arguments about the legal issues in the case -- I'll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues. The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury has spoken, that's how our system works. But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling.

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there's a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it's important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away.

There are very few African American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me -- at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws -- everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn't to say that the African American community is na?ve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they're disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It's not to make excuses for that fact -- although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that's unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent -- using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

I think the African American community is also not na?ve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else. So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys. But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there's no context for it and that context is being denied. And that all contributes I think to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.

Now, the question for me at least, and I think for a lot of folks, is where do we take this? How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction? I think it's understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through, as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family. But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do.

I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it's important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government, the criminal code. And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.

That doesn't mean, though, that as a nation we can't do some things that I think would be productive. So let me just give a couple of specifics that I'm still bouncing around with my staff, so we're not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.

Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.

When I was in Illinois, I passed racial profiling legislation, and it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.

And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and, in turn, be more helpful in applying the law. And obviously, law enforcement has got a very tough job.

So that's one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive. And I think a lot of them would be. And let's figure out are there ways for us to push out that kind of training.

Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it -- if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.

I know that there's been commentary about the fact that the "stand your ground" laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case. On the other hand, if we're sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there's a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we'd like to see?

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these "stand your ground" laws, I'd just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.

Number three -- and this is a long-term project -- we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys. And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?

I'm not naive about the prospects of some grand, new federal program. I'm not sure that that's what we're talking about here. But I do recognize that as President, I've got some convening power, and there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front. And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes, and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African American men feel that they're a full part of this society and that they've got pathways and avenues to succeed -- I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. And we're going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.

And then, finally, I think it's going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven't seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have. On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there's the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don't want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn't mean we're in a post-racial society. It doesn't mean that racism is eliminated. But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they're better than we are -- they're better than we were -- on these issues. And that's true in every community that I've visited all across the country.

And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues. And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we're becoming a more perfect union -- not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

Thank you, guys.


The CBSNews.com page I got that from currently has 5 comments. The page which the OP links to has almost (and by the time I'm done writing this, probably over) 1,000. Another example, perhaps, of how the media has twisted everything surrounding this case and manipulated the raw emotions and underlying racial tensions of many Americans.

I find the President's remarks to be perfectly reasonable. He offers his opinion on a current event that is causing a lot of strife. He speaks from experience on episodes that black men have faced and continue to deal with. He speaks on the fact that black men are "disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system," a statement that makes him "ignorant/racist" according to some. He recognizes the socioeconomic disparities that affect blacks, and then he urges us to move forward.

"Now, the question for me at least, and I think for a lot of folks, is where do we take this? How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction?"

From there he goes on to discuss things that we could look at as a country, as states, and on the local level. He does talk about the "Stand Your Ground" law as a part of this, and as a citizen, it's his right to have an opinion on this controversial law. What's greater than that, in my opinion, is that he goes on to talk about how we as a society and as individuals can help "bolster and reinforce our African American boys." As a half-black man, he is more than qualified to be paternal in this regard. All men would do well to take note, follow his lead, and act paternally toward our young men of all races. We need to set the example, and although the President of the United States shouldn't have to tell us that, here we are.

Obama finishes by talking about how we all may need to do some "soul searching," and about how discussions of race relations in America quickly become politicized. Both are statements that I'd hope any rational American could agree with. He closes by saying:

"And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues. And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we're becoming a more perfect union -- not a perfect union, but a more perfect union."

There's nothing wrong with anything President Obama said in his comments, and I can't sympathize with anyone who takes umbrage with them. On a personal level, I'm tired of people refusing to read, listen, comprehend, and think. We need to stop letting the media and talking heads do that for us. I'm not saying we aren't allowed our kneejerk emotional reactions. However, when the shock and awe has passed, we should be contemplative, not accusatory. We should focus on the issue, not those relaying it. I often wax on about standards and the direction of our country. This has led to me being called things such as "dramatic." What I find to be dramatic is how we continue to be manipulated and played against each other. President Obama isn't wagging his finger at whites or championing for blacks here. He's offering his experience, his opinion, and calling for cooler heads to prevail and for reason and understanding to win the day.

Rather than continue to bicker and point fingers, let's answer the questions that Obama posed: "Where do we take this?" and "How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction?"
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Old 07-19-2013, 09:03 PM
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With trials getting the ridiculous tv coverage they get from corporate owned media outlets, they become topics of discussion. Even Presidents are watching and have views about these trials. The Simpson trial, the Chris Brown assault on Rhianna and that trial now Trayvon Martin get repackaged and become such big stories in the media you'd think nothing else happened during that time period. Presidents have a right to an opinion and if they are asked they have a right to express it.

I wouldn't call him the leader of the black community, but he represents an integral figure for many African Americans (and African/ black people throughout the world). There are many prominent figures in the community who speak for a number of people, have influence of large segments of the community but one person is their leader...might be a bit of a stretch.

I find him more of a disappointment for his lack of comment on the problem of murders in Chicago, which involves African Americans killing African Americans, the high rates of unemployment facing this community compared to the national average. He talks about the statistics, but puts not action towards anything. No bills, not laws, no programs, no financing (at least nothing that has lasted or had any affect) for those who need it but to the corporations, who move the cash (and a lot of jobs) out of the US.

Btw, Stand your Ground was used. The Judge stated it in the direction she gave the jury when both the state and the defense rested.

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Old 07-21-2013, 06:19 AM
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He didn't introduce a law, he didn't instruct Congress to look into anything, he didn't set up a task force, he didn't do anything official. He gave his opinion on the hottest topic in America which relates to a major policy he recently worked on with gun control. Nothing more.
If Obama isn't doing anything about it, why is Eric Holder investigating how to charge George Zimmerman with a hate crime? Who do you think pulls Holder's strings? This is Obama playing good cop/bad cop. He will continue to say perfectly reasonable sounding things, while directing his attorney general to find anything at all they can use to bury Zimmerman with. The even set up a pathetic hotline for people to snitch. Kinda like their "unpatriot" hotline for liberals to inform on their conservative neighbors on.

The Obama administration will stop at nothing, let no stone remain unturned, trying to get Zimmerman..despite the fact that the FBI already investigated Zimmerman, and found absolutely no evidence whatsoever that he had any racist beliefs or tendencies.

He is the head of the witch hunt, all the while claiming that we shouldn't go after witches.
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Old 07-21-2013, 07:56 PM
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Whether anyone thinks Obama has done a good job or he hasn't, happenings of the past few weeks have reminded me of something. With the world watching the George Zimmerman trial, with everyone from celebrities to athletes to pundits weighing in on their opinions, legal analysts going over every bit of the trial, the verdict and the aftermath of the verdict; it always seems to come down to an issue of race when it comes to Obama's presidency. It was expected to some degree but it seems that whenever some sort situation or story gains national attention and race is even suggested as a key motive, Obama finds himself in the middle of the shit storm because of the fact that he's the first black President of the United States.

Obama, like everyone else, is entitled to his opinion of the aftermath of the trial and the verdict itself. With accusations of racism flying all over the place from much of the liberals and conservatives praising the verdict while accusing liberals of trying to use Trayvon Martin for political reasons, Obama has found himself in the middle of things. When it comes to issues of race relations in America, it seems that a great many people have some extraordinarily unrealistic expectations when it comes to Obama. Many African Americans and a good many liberal beliefs in general seem to have gotten the impression that Obama would just come out guns blazing, metaphorically speaking, to solve all the various ills & injustices associated with skin color prejudice with a wave of his hand. On the other side, whenever Obama has mentioned anything when it comes to the history of racial prejudice in the country and how to deal with it moving forward, a good many conservatives start up with accusations of Obama using his racial heritage for the sake of his own personal motives and to further the great big liberal political machine.

When it comes to the death of Trayvon Martin, the exoneration of George Zimmerman and the Stand Your Ground laws; Obama doesn't have much of a choice but to flap his gums about it. If he said absolutely nothing about any of this, especially while the nation itself is in the midst of heated debate, then look at how many people he would piss off anyhow. African Americans, many of whom are of the opinion that Obama hasn't done enough, would be vehemently outraged. Not all of them but some would and we all know it. Many people of liberal political beliefs would think that Obama is avoiding the issue altogether for political reasons. Many conservatives would doubtlessly call Obama cowardly for not talking about these extremely hot social & political topics. As President of the United States in a time in which people are connected in more ways than ever before thanks to the internet & social media, no matter what your skin color is or what gender you are, I don't know that you have the luxury of keeping your mouth shut.

If you're a politician, then it doesn't really matter if you're Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, Independent or whatever else; you're going to piss a lot of people off no matter what you do, say or don't do or say.
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Old 07-22-2013, 08:48 PM
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Presidents take an oath to defend the Constitution and the laws of the land. That is a completely color blind task. The legally appointed jury acquitted George Zimmerman based on the laws of Florida. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that the jury anything but follow the law in their decision. As a black man, Obama is certainly entitled to his own personal opinion. But as the President of the United States, and speaking in that capacity, the only thing he should say is the verdict was lawfully attained, and he respects the decision, and that is time to move on. Not saying all that while directing his Attorney General to completely ignore the verdict, ignore the FBI investigation which came up with jack shit along the George Zimmerman is a racist theory, to try to dig up their own dirt.
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