The Leader of the Free World is a deer in the headlights … and that’s a good thing.
Displaying some constructive leadership in Ferguson would not have been hard for President Obama. As civil unrest bubbled up (we all saw it coming early last week before the death of Robin Williams consumed the news cycle for 36 hours), all he had to do was get in front of the obvious: Come off the golf course, put on a suit and tie, and reassure everyone that his Justice Department is already working to get to the bottom of the Michael Brown shooting.
The president also could have encouraged peaceful, daytime protests. But at the same time, he should have reassured the thousands of peaceful residents of Ferguson — those who own homes and businesses and want no part of this political mess — that there will be a zero-tolerance policy towards violence.
Step two would have been just as simple: Back that policy up. On the ground in Ferguson your point-man from the Justice Department updates the media regularly on the progress of the investigation while law enforcement does what’s necessary to keep the streets safe. If the National Guard is required, you call the National Guard.
Naturally, Obama didn’t do this.
Leadership is hard.
Especially for this president.
Once it was too late for Obama to lead in Ferguson, he tried the old standby of leading from behind. Twice now he has stepped off the golf course to do all he can do at this point — which is to try and not make things worse — and to his credit he has at least accomplished that. But if you watched our president during these two statements, what we have is a feckless leader who is obviously haunted by the memory of past mistakes.
And for good reason.
As president, Obama’s first foray into a racial controversy was a four-alarm disaster for the White House. In July of 2009, although he had no idea what really happened, Obama proclaimed to the world that the Cambridge police had “acted stupidly” during the arrest for disorderly conduct of one of Obama’s friends, prominent Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
The cop is white. Gates is black.
“I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played,” the president said during a national news conference.
To try and clean up this disaster, Obama would make it worse by hosting the famously awkward Beer Summit.
In short, the president made a public fool of himself.
And that was the good news.
The bad news is that before knowing the facts, the president injected race into a local controversy. Obama is, if you recall, a president elected in no small way based on a promise to bring America together. Instead, he eagerly leapt at the Cambridge moment and used it as an opportunity to divide. This was no accident. Obama’s not stupid. His experience as a community organizer taught him that division breeds power for the dividers.
In March of 2012, Obama would step in it again. Before all the facts were known, the president injected race into the Trayvon Martin shooting. “If I had a son,” Obama said. “He would look like Trayvon.”
Once again, after all the evidence came out, in his zeal to divide, it was Obama who had acted stupidly.
No investigation, even at the federal level, found any racial motivation in the shooting of the unarmed teenager. Moreover, although the media tried lying and/or covering it up, nothing could change the fact that Trayvon Martin’s shooter is Hispanic.
Obama’s clueless divisiveness is now a political liability. ‘Looks like my son” and “acted stupidly” have become punchlines — an easy shorthand to mock a highly partisan president who is in way over his head.
The result is that in the wake of society unraveling in Ferguson, The OceanHealer looks unsure, uncomfortable, a little frightened, and incapable of being decisive.
That’s a good thing. With this president, that’s when he’s the least dangerous.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC