I have watched and read Juan Williams for years now, mostly as a commentator on Fox News. I often find myself laughing or scoffing at his points, but I also acknowledge that he is a fundamentally good guy. This morning’s piece in the Wall Street Journal, though, brings my respect for him to an entirely new level. Just as only a President Obama can tell the black community it must take more responsibility and expect less of government, so can only a Juan Williams call out his media colleagues for taking it easy on the first black president. An example of his wisdom:
If his presidency is to represent the full power of the idea that black Americans are just like everyone else — fully human and fully capable of intellect, courage and patriotism — then Barack Obama has to be subject to the same rough and tumble of political criticism experienced by his predecessors. To treat the first black president as if he is a fragile flower is certain to hobble him. It is also to waste a tremendous opportunity for improving race relations by doing away with stereotypes and seeing the potential in all Americans.
Yet there is fear, especially among black people, that criticism of him or any of his failures might be twisted into evidence that people of color cannot effectively lead. That amounts to wasting time and energy reacting to hateful stereotypes. It also leads to treating all criticism of Mr. Obama, whether legitimate, wrong-headed or even mean-spirited, as racist.
This is patronizing. Worse, it carries an implicit presumption of inferiority. Every American president must be held to the highest standard. No president of any color should be given a free pass for screw-ups, lies or failure to keep a promise.
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1. I was creeped out by the “Obama!” chant breaking out when the President stepped to the podium. It was a little too “Evita!” for my taste. Such things work for the campaign; when used with a President, they become a bit, well, cultish. Better that his fans leave the chant (and the symbol, and…this) behind.
2. Apparently President Obama didn’t know his audience very well. He told the crowd that, “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.” Only moments before, thousands in the crowd mocked President Bush as he walked onto the podium. Stay classy, Dems.
3. Yet again, I leave an Obama speech utterly incapable of recalling a single line. I’ve had to refer back to the transcript multiple times just to make sure that I remembered it correctly. Is it possible that the man’s remarkable delivery so transfixes the listener that nothing he says can stand out? Or, heaven forfend, could his speechwriters really not be that great?
4. Was the Mall really as disproportionately populated by African Americans as it seemed on television? I don’t blame cameramen at all for focusing their “reaction” shots on black congregants, who had to have been uniquely moved by the day’s events. But I’d be interested to know if African Americans were unusually well-represented in the crowd.
5. I loved the contrast and color provided by Rick Warren and Rev. Lowery’s prayers. The ceremony wouldn’t have been the same without them. I actually overheard someone say, “God, dude, can you cut out the sermon?” while listening to Warren’s prayer. One cannot find a better example of much of modern America’s understanding of religion and its place in public life than this. And while Rev. Lowery’s prayer was pitch-perfect for the moment, let no one say that the “religious right” is more active in pushing its politics through the pulpit than liberal ministers.
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Much enthusiasm, much emotion have been displayed today, and well they should be. Not only does every president deserve his victory celebration, but the nation also needs these moments of civic renewal to remind itself that its principles and mechanics endure.
Consider it a quadrennial doctor’s visit. Uncle Sam drags himself into the doctor’s office, is run through the paces and found wanting in some respects. The body politic has its ailments diagnosed, given certain prescriptions for recovery, but is also told that things should be just fine in the long run. After paying the bill, Uncle Sam leaves the building, medications in hand, with new confidence – nothing fatal, just some work to do.
This checkup, of course, came with particularly good — and particularly bad — news. On the positive side, America was declared as emerging from what many once thought its terminal affliction: its obsession with race. If this election has truly heralded the cure of this disease, President Obama may well be a top-10 President this afternoon. On the other hand, the nation is fighting two wars, is plummetting into a deep recession, and hasn’t fixed many of the problems that faced it at the last checkup (i.e., health care costs, illegal immigration, massive deficits).
To his credit, the President’s speech embraced the total diagnosis. He did not let this historic moment pass without meditating on its crucial importance. He also did not let its symbolic significance overtake the very real challenges facing our nation’s health. I may spend much of the next four years disagreeing with our President’s prescriptions for binding up our nation’s wounds, to quote an Obama favorite. We may also find that such medicine doesn’t go down very well, or that the cure is worse that the disease. But if the Obama Administration maintains the clear-eyed approach on display at the Capitol today, we can expect that he will adjust the course of treatment as the patient’s recovery demands it.
In the end, none of us can expect more from our nation’s leaders than that.
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