A Rare Stumble
When, in the middle the of last year's presidential campaign, Barack Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, publicly railed against white hegemony, candidate Obama used his formidable powers of persuasion to turn a potential crisis in to an opportunity. This past week he has taken an opportunity and turned it in to a crisis.
The Rev.Wright snafu would have sunk most election bids, but with a pitch-perfect speech the President not only dodged a political bullet, he used the incident to cement a visionary post- racial platform. It was a pivotal moment for his campaign and, some argue, the future of US race relations.
From a communications standpoint, his handling of the crisis showcased one Obama's greatest strengths; his ability to transcend - or at least appear to transcend - the issues. That is what makes his recent involvement in the Henry Louis Gates affair so troubling. By wading in to a debate on race without full possession of the facts (and in so doing, calling a decorated expert on racial profiling 'stupid') the President has not only escalated a local issue to a national embarrassment, he has also seriously dented his image as objective peacemaker. Obama's highly cultivated impartiality has so far enabled him to rise above partisan positions and skillfully avoid attacks from any side. Conversely, with his trademark detachment in question, Obama has opened himself up to attacks from absolutely everyone.
What the President describes as his efforts to "dial down" the debate is in fact his fervent attempt to regain his position as the world's referee. But is anyone buying it any more? His scheduled beer with Gates and Crowley smacks of cheap photo op by comparison with his More Perfect Union speech, and his assertion that "the reason it has garnered so much attention is a testimony to the fact that these issues are still very sensitive in America" sounds unlikely coming from the man with the country's biggest megaphone.