No. 3 — 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.
This is psycho-babble. Look, this isn't rocket science. There is a great article in Sports Illustrated this week about the Seahawks' cornerback, Richard Sherman. He was raised in Compton, CA, in what can safely be called a "ghetto." But his father and mother were married and stayed together, and his father and mother both had jobs that they worked hard at, and his father took the 4:00 am shift so he would be home in the afternoons to watch his kids, and his father coached Sherman and his brother and sister in sports, and his parents set an example of reading and, lo and behold, Sherman ended up a 4.0 plus student in high school with a full-ride to Stanford. Now he's probably a pretty smart kid, a naturally gifted kid. But the solution seems very obvious to me... stable marriages, two-parent families, hard work. What in the past 50 years of liberalism has supported and encouraged those values and those family structures? Not much.
My children don't need to have a "sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them." They already know that their parents care about them and value them and will do whatever it takes to make them successful and happy as adults.
In short, it doesn't take a village... it takes two parents. Period. End of story. It works.
You know, I’m not naive about the prospects of some brand-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 — and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — you know, 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.
More psycho-babble. Let's gather some more pseudo-leaders together to do some talk talk talk. Let's mix in some "celebrities and athletes"... how condescending to young black men! Maybe if only Dr. Dre said some pablum about how you can be anything you want to be if you only believe in yourself! Maybe if LeBron could talk about how everyone can realize their dreams if only they just try hard enough (and are 6'8", 275, with preternatural hops)!
And, oh, by the way, if federal programs don't work... and Obama seems to suggest that it is naive to think that they do... then why do we spend so much money on them?
And then finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. You know, 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 a 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.
"Convene a conversation on race"? Look, all we do is talk about race. As a former English professor, I can tell you that academia for the past 30 years has been so obsessive about race that it has, along with gender and class, basically excluded all other categories of human thought. Our public intellectual life focuses on little else.
And, if you think workplaces are any better, you haven't had much experience in the modern American corporation, where diversity has become a creed. An "honest" discussion about "am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character"? Are you kidding? If you tried to judge people on the content of their character rather than apply the categories required by affirmative action and the diversity creed, you'd find yourself getting sued.
Finally, the word "tragedy" is remarkably overused. Greek tragedies involve the downfall of great men due to the inscrutable workings of a higher power... the Theban plays by Sophocles come to mind. Shakespearean tragedies typically involve the downfall of a great man because of his own personal flaw -- Othello's jealousy, Hamlet's indecision, MacBeth's ambition, Lear's pride. What happened to Trayvon Martin has a lot of pathos in it, but not much tragedy.
And let me just leave you with — 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 that we’re in a postracial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I see 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.
I agree that things are getting better in terms of racism as an attitude but, oddly enough, they haven't been getting better in terms of the actual quality of life of African-Americans. Where in 1953 or so there was de jure segregation in much of America and real racism by whites, the black family was relatively intact and black advancements in education and employment were trending rapidly upward. Now there is no de jure segregation, but lots of defacto segregation, and little overt racism, the black family has at least statistically been destroyed, with the corresponding social pathologies that come from that.
And, of course, when Obama talks to his daughters' friends, he's talking to ultra-privileged children of the elite of the elites -- the types of kids who go to Sidwell Friends in Washington. I think he might hear a lot of very different things if he went to some other neighborhoods in DC.
And so, you know, 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, you know, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.
Look, I like MLK's speeches and I like Lincoln's speeches, and I'm glad that they are part of the American fabric. But Obama borders on parody when he simply whips out the by-now cliched phrases of those great speeches and uses them without attribution in his own speech. "Color of skin and content of character"? That's MLK. "Better angels of our nature"? That's Lincoln.
All in all, this is a very tired speech, a speech of psychobabble and tired liberal cliches and lazy writing that substitutes a visit to Bartlett's Quotations for original thought or original writing. Only the most sold-out journalists could possibly read this and think it is deep or groundbreaking or courageous.
Anyway, that's what I think. It certainly doesn't make me want to "fisk" one of Obama's upcoming speeches laying out his umpteenth "pivot" to talking about the economy and jobs!