The Obama Watch

Obama’s Greatest Failing

Our president has failed every racial test he has taken.

By 12.6.11

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This is the season to be counting all of the defects of our political leaders, including of course the top one. The word on the street is that Mr. Obama's failure to produce enough jobs will spell his political doom. However, in my view there is a good argument that our president's most important failing lies in the field of race relations. It was in that field that his very being symbolized an historic promise.

The promise was both implied and explicit. The American dream was being fulfilled because we had elected a member of a formerly despised and abused minority to lead us out of the wilderness of racial bigotry and prejudice. All of us who voted for him had every right to expect that Barack Obama would head the most post-racial administration in history, dedicated in every governmental office to equality in all actions. There would be no discrimination in favor of one race over another, certainly not the black race over the white. Not with the first African-American occupying the Oval Office.

Like so many others, I found myself actually weeping at the wonder and the hope that filled American hearts during the Inauguration ceremonies. And like so many others I have almost cried since that day, but for other reasons.

The sad truth is that our president has flunked every racial test he has taken -- from his ineptly criticizing the Cambridge police for their alleged stupid handling of a complaint by a prestigious black Harvard professor to his embrace -- yes, an actual hug -- of the clever racial bigot, Al Sharpton. Obama has had many opportunities to use the bully pulpit of the White House to denounce bigots like Sharpton and his brother-in-hate, Farrakhan, but he has not done so. Just the opposite. Anti-white and anti-Semitic thugs are flourishing in this spineless atmosphere -- even though we Americans had every right to expect Mr. Obama to deal with them harshly.

All of which brings us back to the New Black Panther case. Remember that one? In the hectic pace of news today, it may seem like ancient history, but it is not and it had better not be forgotten. As it happens, the Commission on Civil Rights has recently issued a bound copy of its full report on the case. Because the Obama Justice Department stonewalled the commission's requests for information on the case, it is labeled "An Interim Report" but it is likely to be the last word from the commission on the subject.

In this report we have an objective, exhaustive documentation of the failure of the Obama Administration to deal in a race-neutral fashion with the civil rights violations of a fringe black hate group. Two New Black Panther Party members stood outside a Philadelphia polling place during the 2008 presidential election and shouted racial slurs at potential voters and poll workers, such as "You are about to be ruled by a black man, cracker." The thugs were in paramilitary garb and one brandished a nightstick. Since this was a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in December 2008 initiated a civil suit against the party, its chairman, and the two men at the polling place. In legal terms, this was as a simple matter, a slam-dunk.

It became even simpler when the defendants did not respond to the suit and a default judgment was entered. Case won and over. But not so fast. The Obama Administration arrived in January 2009 and soon a whole new crew of leaders took over the Department of Justice, led by Eric Holder. As has been extensively documented in the commission report and in the seminal book Injustice by former Justice Department lawyer J. Christian Adams, there is solid evidence that the new leaders were not dedicated to the race-neutral enforcement of the law. This was made clear when the Obama-Holder department abruptly revered course in May 2009 and dismissed the case, except for a slap on the wrist to one of the defendants. The dismissal found much support among lawyers and staff members in the division.

It is an outrage and a national scandal that many lawyers in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice do not support the equal enforcement of the civil rights laws -- and they actually object when those laws are applied to black offenders who victimize whites. It is an even greater outrage and a greater scandal when by now there can be no doubt that our president knows of this outrage and has done nothing to deal forcefully with it.

Based upon my past experience in the federal government, including stints as a White House consultant, I believe that this is a relatively simple matter for the president to handle. He can start by admitting that the dismissal of the panther suit was a mistake and that actions against black civil rights offenders will be vigorously pursued in the future. He can then demand that lawyers and other staff, including conservatives and Republicans, who believe in the race-neutral enforcement of the law be recruited at all levels of the Civil Rights Division. There are many lawyers who fit that description, some of whom work in the Justice Department today. The president can also order that the massive Justice Department cover-up cease and that information about the case be revealed.

None of these remedies will be taken if Mr. Obama is not convinced they are necessary. If he ignores this scandal, his failures in the racial field will remain a blot on his record forever. 

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About the Author
Arnold S. Trebach, J.D., Ph.D., the author of several books, is professor emeritus of public affairs, American University. He was involved as a front line protester in the original civil rights movement and has been a federal civil rights official.