The Hyphenated Presidency: How Obama Failed Morgan Freeman
“In the old age black was not counted fair/ but now is black beauty’s successive heir”— Shakespeare Sonnet 127
It took 400 years, but The Bard might well have thrilled to the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. To see blackness counted fair in the land that indulged slavery and its offshoots for so many centuries was drama in the vein of Othello. Even his opponents acknowledged the moment’s significance.
More than seven years later, it is now a Shakespearian tragedy that finds Obama raging like Othello against a host of imagined foes after seeing the sweet promise of his election end up in the corrosive racial divisions of America. Republicans, police, the NRA, social conservatives, religious communities. All are to blame for not divining his genius in re-engineering society.
His announced goal of uniting Americans is now a scrum of identity groups scrambling frantically to carve a “safe space” away from those they hate. No one talks of accomplishment. No one talks of accommodation. People can no longer bump against each other without an “ism” being hurled.
Obama’s presidency didn’t begin that way. Actor Morgan Freeman captured the promise of Obama’s election when talking to Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes in 2009.
Mike Wallace: “How are we going to get rid of racism and — ”
Morgan Freeman: “Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man, and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man… I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman… You know what I’m saying?”
Freeman is now considered by Black Lives Matter as an Uncle Tom for not playing the colour card. An appeaser. Yesterday’s man. In Obama’s United States you’re a nobody unless you have a prefix to go before American. African. Gay. Hispanic. Transgendered. Socialist. Feminist. Libertarian. Asian. Native. Obama’s America is a Baskin Robbins of rabid causes demanding a spotlight they simultaneously deny to their enemies.
A measure of this vulgar mosh pit flows from the example set by the 44th president. In his fetish for promoting victimization, the heavyweight champion of the faculty lounge has squandered the currency of his historic election. Yet only he seems not to notice his role in the process. (Trading witticisms with Jimmy Fallon will do that.)
Does this exaggerate the importance of the presidency? In many cases, yes. George W. Bush and his father George H.W. Bush were not avatars of a new man. Bill Clinton was all about the exercise of power to his benefit. Only Ronald Reagan stands as a leader of a movement as profound as Obama’s in the last half century.
But from his first days in office, Obama and his closest advisers made it clear that Morgan Freeman could go to hell. It was all about labels. The president showed his hand early, rushing in without evidence to blame cops for “stupidity” in the moments after one of them waylaid his pal Henry Gates in the leafy suburbs of Boston. Facts later de-escalated the crisis Obama generated.
It was hardly a one-off. During both terms as president, he’s shown a quick-twitch reflex for pre-judging grievance in Florida, Missouri, Connecticut, Texas and anywhere else where he saw the chance to lecture mainstream America about its shortcomings. The sweet promise of reconciliation quickly soured as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others were used as a cudgel to whack even those who’d voted for Obama.
The really heavy lifting Obama left to characters like his attorney general Eric Holder who hectored Americans for not wallowing in racial self examination. “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder said. If Obama thought this harsh he never said so.
When the facts fail to favour his progressive narrative (http://goo.gl/aScsYb), Obama hauls out the heavy guns. Literally. Every tragedy can be attributed to guns, not the people who used them. The bogeyman is the NRA and how they buy a Congress that failed to fall in lock step with His Agenda. Even in Tuesday’s otherwise fine tribute to the slain police officers in Dallas, Obama had to once more defend his preposterous notion that it’s easier for a young person to buy a gun than a computer.
It was a bruising performance, perfect for a machine pol brought up in the Chicago style of the Daleys. One thing it was not is unifying.
Obama’s fascinations are those of the impressionable undergraduate discovering that history is cruel and capricious. Most of us grow out of this black/ white worldview as we grapple with the greyness of real life. Obama, however, is suspended like a fly in Harvard aspic. He sees the exercise of power in the same manner he did when coming of age in the salons of academe and the Chicago racial crucible in the 1980s.
None of this should be surprising, even though legacy media, which swooned for him in 2008, claims to be gobsmacked that a disciple of Saul Alinsky, Bill Ayres and Jeremiah Wright might not be the biggest fan of the colorless American Dream of Morgan Freeman and Dr. Martin Luther King. To paraphrase the TV commercial, media like tunas with good taste, not tunas that taste good.
So if Obama is as appalled by the extreme messages of BLM (which is very debatable) he can take a long look in the mirrors of the White House. The true man is there for him to see. And now for us all to see as well. As Shakespeare wrote in Othello: “Virtue? A fig! 'Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus.”
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).