Barack Obama promised a new era of post-partisanship. In office, he’s played racial politics and further split the country along class and party lines.
The ‘Beer Summit’: President Barack Obama, right, and Vice President Joe Biden, left, have a beer with Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., second from left, and Cambridge, Mass. police Sgt. James Crowley in the Rose Garden of the White House, July 30, 2009.
During the election campaign, Barack Obama sought to appeal to the best instincts of the electorate, to a post-partisan sentiment that he said would reinvigorate our democracy. He ran on a platform of reconciliation–of getting beyond “old labels” of right and left, red and blue states, and forging compromises based on shared values.
President Obama’s Inaugural was a hopeful day, with an estimated 1.8 million people on the National Mall celebrating the election of America’s first African-American president. The level of enthusiasm, the anticipation and the promise of something better could not have been more palpable.
And yet, it has not been realized. Not at all.
Rather than being a unifier, Mr. Obama has divided America on the basis of race, class and partisanship. Moreover, his cynical approach to governance has encouraged his allies to pursue a similar strategy of racially divisive politics on his behalf.
We have seen the divisive approach under Republican presidents as well–particularly the administrations of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now. By dividing America, Mr. Obama has brought our government to the brink of a crisis of legitimacy, compromising our ability to address our most important policy issues.
We say this with a heavy heart. Both of us share the president’s stated vision of what America can and should be. The struggle for equal rights has animated both of our lives. Both of us were forged politically during the crucible of the civil rights movement. Having worked in the South during the civil rights movement, and on behalf of the ground-breaking elections of African-American mayors such as David Dinkins, Harold Washington and Emanuel Cleaver, we were deeply moved by Mr. Obama’s election.
The first hint that as president Mr. Obama would be willing to interject race into the political dialogue came last July, when he jumped to conclusions about the confrontation between Harvard Prof. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates and the Cambridge police.
During a press conference, the president said that the “Cambridge police acted stupidly,” and he went on to link the arrest with the “long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.”
In truth, the Gates incident appears to have had nothing to do with race–a Cambridge review committee that investigated the incident ruled on June 30 that there was fault on both sides.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) has said the president told him in a closed-door meeting that he would not move to secure the border with Mexico unless and until Congress reached a breakthrough on comprehensive immigration reform. That’s another indication Mr. Obama is willing to continue to play politics with hot-button issues.
Add in the lawsuit against the Arizona immigration law and it’s clear the Obama administration is willing to run the risk of dividing the American people along racial and ethnic lines to mobilize its supporters–particularly Hispanic voters, whose backing it needs in the fall midterm elections and beyond.
As the Washington Post reported last week, two top White House strategists, speaking on condition of anonymity, have indicated that “the White House plans to use the immigration debate to punish the GOP and aggressively seek the Latino vote in 2012.”
On an issue that has gotten much less attention, but is potentially just as divisive, the Justice Department has pointedly refused to prosecute three members of the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation at the polls on Election Day 2008.
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