There’s a palpable sense of disappointment, particularly among Democrats, about the president’s remarks yesterday on the Ferguson nightmare. It was what you might call aggressively low-key. He addressed Ferguson only after talking at some length about Iraq. Most of his remarks were of the “both sides are at fault” variety. And short of indicating he was paying attention, and is sending Attorney General Holder and other DOJ officials there, he didn’t announce any specific actions.
But with the National Guard already deployed, it’s not clear what else Obama could say or do that would not make things worse. As Ezra Klein points out today, Obama is no longer the transcendent figure who gave the famous “Race Speech” in 2008. And in fact, there’s significant evidence that the hatred conservatives have for him bleeds over into any controversy he addresses, most especially if it involves race:
If Obama’s speeches aren’t as dramatic as they used to be, this is why: the White House believes a presidential speech on a politically charged topic is as likely to make things worse as to make things better. It is as likely to infuriate conservatives as it is to inspire liberals. And in a country riven by political polarization, widening that divide can take hard problems and make them impossible problems.
President Obama might still decide to give a speech about events in Ferguson. But it probably won’t be the speech many of his supporters want. When Obama gave the first Race Speech he was a unifying figure trying to win the Democratic nomination. Today he’s a divisive figure who needs to govern the whole country. The White House never forgets that.
More to the point, whatever mojo Obama has probably needs to be held in reserve in case he finds himself announcing or defending a federal civil rights indictment of Darren Wilson after local prosecutors have failed to act. Now that will take some heavy lifting, and perhaps magical powers.