The White House podium conveys a great deal of power and influence to the man standing behind it. Teddy Roosevelt called it "the bully pulpit." President Obama used it Friday to deliver a heartfelt, emotional 18-minute reflection on the George Zimmerman trial. Mr. Zimmerman was found by a jury of his peers to have acted in self-defense when he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. This angered a lot of people who wanted a different verdict and who were not much interested in how the jury reached its verdict.
Mr. Obama said the bare minimum in support of the jury and its verdict, conceding only that "once the jury has spoken, that's how our system works." His attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., apparently didn't get the word. He's mulling the idea of filing federal charges, if he can think of any, against Mr. Zimmerman.
"Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago," Mr. Obama said. This is hyperbole. The only things the president had in common with Trayvon was a skin of a dark hue and a fondness for partying and smoking pot. The 17-year-old Barry Obama, brought up by white grandparents, went from a fashionable and expensive private school in Hawaii to Occidental College, Columbia University and Harvard Law School. His success, despite the nation's imperfections in dealing with issues of race, demonstrates how those who apply themselves can achieve great things in America.
This was a missed opportunity by the president to use the bully pulpit to send a message of hope and personal responsibility. Instead, the president took a shot at stand your ground laws (which were not applied in the Zimmerman case). He spoke about unhappy encounters with white people, how security workers at department stores watched him suspiciously and how he heard car doors click locked as he walked past.
He did not talk about how he moved beyond that to win a seat in the Illinois General Assembly, then to the U.S. Senate and finally to the White House with the highest honor Americans, a majority of them white, can confer on a favorite son. Mr. Obama, no slouch on the basketball court, could have said that a passion for academics made him no less authentic than those whose interests lie elsewhere. Noting, as he did, "that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past," Mr. Obama could have further acknowledged that no other nation in the history of the world has ever turned itself upside down and inside out to make amends for its past sins. Mr. Obama could help close the door on that dreadful past, and in the cliche of the day, move forward.
Instead, he turned to the cheap and easy excuse. "There is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws," said the president, "everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws, and that has an impact in terms of how people interpret the case."
The president could have said that every disappointment doesn't have to be viewed through the filter of race. Despite difficulties, it's possible to grow up, become educated and build a good life. Mr. Obama himself is an advertisement that such things are possible.
Each of us has the responsibility for our own lives, and the responsibility to avoid the behavior that leads to a wasted life. Mr. Obama could have done a great service not only to the memory of Trayvon Martin, but to millions of young Americans, black and white, who look to the president for inspiration to better their lives.
The Washington Times