Race Yes, Policy No

Race Yes, Policy No

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

In watching and listening to the President’s remarks on Friday about the Trayvon Martin case, one repeatedly was struck by how amazing impressive Obama can be.  As he was in Newtown, Connecticut, as he in his 48 hours in Israel, as he was with President George H.W. Bush as he was in campaigning, so too was he in the White House press room on Friday. The touch he has to communicate directly to people and to audiences as a Public Leader is remarkable and explains much about his political success; but it remains a mystery why he cannot use any of this touch when he needs to negotiate with Congress and with politicians to be an effective Administrative and Legislative Leader.

Much had been said concerning how to measure the race issue in the Martin-Zimmerman case/trial.  Regardless of the weakness of the case, the credibility of the actual defense or the decision in the courtroom, the American people ought to have learned from the case something critical about the persistent problem of racial discrimination in America in 2013. Much more honest and realistic than the action of the U.S. Supreme Court in striking down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act—regardless of their correctness in attacking the inappropriate data used in the 2006 renewal of the law—the American people learned much in the Trayvon Martin trial about what it means to be Black in America in 2013.

When the African American President of the United States stands before the cameras and speaks about the subject—not about the trial—as he did last Friday there was a powerful educative message. When the first female President or the first Jewish President or the first Latino President finds him/herself in the same situation, one must hope that President will be able to handle the situation with the same class as did President Obama.

It is also a lesson which unfortunately this Supreme Court did not want to appreciate about their incorrect judgment as to the “impact” of their decision. It may be years before the consequences of that decision will be corrected, but perhaps President Obama may have begun to provide a focus for the country on the critical lesson of race in America in 2013.  Maybe there is hope that the President himself can learn from this and try to apply some of his effective persuasive power to begin to lead the Congress as well.

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