A Leadership Moment

It used to be the conventional wisdom that an African-American  would find it impossible to become president. The analysis held that an African-American person who was not threatening to whites would not be appear sufficiently authentic to the African-American community.  The more a potential black candidate modulated his persona to make white America comfortable, the less support he or she would likely garner from African-American community. Shelbe Steele was the most persuasive proponent of this view.

President Barak Obama shattered this analysis in November 2008. Whether through his personal charm, intellect, oratory skills, or political organization, Obama has manged to remain a hip celebrity while energizing white Americans on his behalf. In many ways, Obama’s greatest contribution is to demonstrate America’s movement past preoccupation with race. Obama made Americans proud that they could support an African-American candidate.

The current argument offered by former President Jimmy Carter and even the usually level-headed Bill Cosby is that much of the opposition to Obama’s health care plan is rooted in  racism. This does not make statistical sense since Obama entered office with nearly 70% approval and now his medical care plan has less than majority support. Clearly some people who were sufficient unbiased to approve of Obama’s presidential performance at one time now disagree with Obama’s medical care policies. The casual broad brush of racism is pernicious and toxic, and ultimately undermines the historic importance of the Obama presidency.

Long after the results of the medical care controversy are resolved, the nation’s psyche will either overcome these racism charges or the notion of perpetual American racism will ingrain further itself among some. If the racism charge is allowed to gain currency, the nation will be become more polarized on racial grounds. Many Americans who fancy themselves as unprejudiced  are  likely be insulted by the charge.

The time is now for President Obama to exercise leadership before charges of racial animosity are allowed to undermine any potential unity in the country. It is incumbent on Obama to speak out against such a path in an unequivocal way. Obama must devote an public speech to making clear that there is room for disagreement with him outside the scope of racism. He should marshal his considerable rhetorical skills to calm the racial waters. He should warn that he will not allow charges of racism to undermine his presidency or his goals.

When Obama’s candidacy was jeopardized by his 20-year association with the radical minister Jeremiah Wright, Obama quickly delivered a special speech to explain his views on race and cauterize the Wright’s wound on this reputation. At this point, people like Jimmy Carter, who destroyed his own presidency, are undermining the transformative nature of the Obama presidency. Now is a time for an Obama leadership moment.

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