President Barack Obama gave one of the better speeches of his presidency on Thursday from Warsaw — before police officers were murdered in Dallas at a Black Lives Matter protest.
It started out badly, with Obama politicizing recent events, calling the death of two black men in Baton Rouge and in Minneapolis symptoms of “a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.” He won’t blame radical Islam for terror, but he’ll blame racism for apparent police misconduct. The usual.
But then, Obama said this:
To be concerned about these issues is not to be against law enforcement. There are times when these incidents occur and you see protests and you see vigils, and I get letters, well-meaning letters sometimes, from law enforcement saying, how come we’re under attack?
How come not as much emphasis is made when police officers are shot? And so to all of law enforcement, I want to be very clear. We know you have a tough job. We mourn those in uniform who are protecting us who lose their lives.
On a regular basis, I have joined with families in front of Capitol Hill to commemorate the incredible heroism that they have displayed. I have hugged family members who have lost loved ones doing the right thing. I know how much it hurts.
On a regular basis, we bring in those who have done heroic work in law enforcement and have survived. Sometimes they have been injured. Sometimes they risked their lives in remarkable ways, and we applaud them and appreciate them, because they are doing a really tough job really well.
There is no contradiction between us supporting law enforcement, making sure they have got the equipment they need, making sure that their collective bargaining rights are recognized, making sure that they are adequately staffed, making sure that they are respected, making sure their families are supported, and also saying that there are problems across our criminal justice system.
There are biases, some conscious and unconscious, that have to be rooted out. That’s not an attack on law enforcement. That is reflective of the values that the vast majority of law enforcement bring to the job.
But I repeat, if communities are mistrustful of the police, that makes those law enforcement officers who are doing a great job and are doing the right thing, it makes their lives harder.
So, you know, when people say black lives matter, that doesn’t mean blue lives don’t matter. It just means all lives matter but right now, the big concern is the fact that the data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents.
This isn’t a matter of us comparing the value of lives. This is recognizing that there’s a particular burden that is being placed on a group of our fellow citizens and we should care about that. And we can’t dismiss it.
We can’t dismiss it.
I wish I could isolate those paragraphs from the rest of his speech, and for the purposes of this article, I will.
This was Obama at his best, reaching out beyond the divisive habits of the community organizer and acting as the leader of the nation. He was speaking for the concerns of the black community, but without putting a unique collective burden on everyone else. He was — in the best civil rights tradition — appealing to things we all have, and want, in common, to move us forward.
You can look back at Obama’s seven-plus years of blaming the police, and appeasing radical movements, and say he helped set the stage for what is happening in the country today, but the fact is that right before Dallas, he was saying the right thing.
Certainly, he’ll be telling us about gun control again, soon enough — even though the law-abiding, open carry permit-holding black protester who was initially, and incorrectly, named as a suspect easily turned himself and his weapon over to police.
But look beyond that, and try to remember that the president understands what has to be done to bring people together, at some level. He even said “all lives matter,” and that “blue lives” matter, both of which are taboo on the left. There is hope.
Donald Trump also condemned the “horrific execution-style shootings of 12 Dallas law enforcement officers – five of whom were killed and seven wounded.” He is right, and he is right that “law and order” must be restored.
And he also had this to say: “Prayers and condolences to all of the families who are so thoroughly devastated by the horrors we are all watching take place in our country.”
That’s it — no blame, and no attempts at moral equivalence, just an appeal to the empathy of all Americans.
There will be people who try to blame Trump for the violence in the country. And he has said some stupid things.
But this week, in a gesture that went unnoticed, Trump stood in front of a rowdy Raleigh crowd and defended gay people — “the gay community, the LGBT community.” That’s not something you see politicians do in North Carolina — even if the context is something like the Orlando terror attack, which evoked near-universal horror. Trump stood up, genuinely, for tolerance.
It’s tempting, this week, to blame Hillary Clinton and her defenders for aggravating the sense of unequal justice in America. As protesters marched in the streets to protest the unfairness of law enforcement, Clinton walked away from apparent crimes that would have caused anyone else to lose their career and probably their freedom. She also seized on the Black Lives Matter protests to cadge for votes. But she is not to blame — she is more likely to be attacked by protesters than to incite them.
We can blame our political leaders, collectively, because they have failed to unify us. But at some point, we have to blame ourselves — not each other, not our Facebook friends who post the wrong icon, and not anonymous Twitter trolls who blast offensive images into the social media stream.
You and I are not only responsible for our own actions, but also responsible for what kinds of media we consume, whether we let ourselves to be inspired or offended, and what we share in turn with others.
If you know more about the views of a stranger with a bizarre alphanumerical Twitter handle than you do about your next-door neighbors, it’s time to take a break from social media.
Stop looking for blame. Start reaching out. We are better than this.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, will be published by Regnery on July 25 and is available for pre-order through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.