Who is Being Divisive?

Recently Steve Benen did a great job of summarizing how several of the Republican presidential candidates have decided to blame President Obama for police shootings. He did so with his usual civility. But the whole thing is simply beyond believable.

It’s also not just Republican candidates taking up this meme. Last week when President Obama went to Boston to deliver a Labor Day speech, law enforcement officers boycotted and the New England Police Benevolent Association issued a press release.

He wrote, the Boston Herald reported: “Our members are enraged at his lack of support of law enforcement. It’s clear that he has an agenda and unfortunately, the police are not part of his agenda.”

Flynn referenced the eight police officers killed in a nine-day period, and Obama’s “silence” on that point. He also denounced Joe Biden’s silence, characterizing the lack of support for police “not an Obama problem” but rather “an administration problem,” he wrote.

“This is a horror show,” Flynn said. “This is an epidemic of lawless people trying to kill police officers for no apparent reasons.

First of all, as reporters like Radley Balko at the Washington Post have pointed out, there is clearly no “epidemic of lawless people trying to kill police officers.”

And secondly, I’ll simply note that the President has never said a negative word about police officers, but actually called the widow of the recently slain Texas sheriff to offer his condolences.

Obama called Kathleen Goforth, the deputy’s widow, on Monday while he was traveling to Alaska, according to a statement from the White House. During the call, Obama said he offered her prayers on the loss of “a veteran law enforcement officer who was contemptibly shot and killed.”

He went on to decry any violence against officers, saying that Americans must stand up for the safety of police across the country.

“I also promised that I would continue to highlight the uncommon bravery that police officers show in our communities every single day,” Obama said in the statement. “They put their lives on the line for our safety. Targeting police officers is completely unacceptable — an affront to civilized society.”

What President Obama has done consistently since the initial unrest in Ferguson is condemn violence and work to build back the erosion of trust that has developed between people of color and law enforcement. That has also been the position of former Attorney General Eric Holder and current AG Loretta Lynch (both of whom have close relatives who are police officers).

All of this is part and parcel of an ongoing theme from conservatives that was recently articulated this way by Rand Paul:

In the last six years under President Obama, we’ve seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric. Instead of hope and change, we’ve seen racial tensions worsen and a tendency to use law enforcement as a scapegoat.

He’s right on one thing: in the last six years we’ve seen racial tensions worsen. I don’t think anyone would dispute that. So why is that?

From the beginning of his campaign for president, Republicans and conservative media have been spreading lies about how Barack Obama pals around with terrorists, was educated in a madrasa in Indonesia, has parents who are Muslim, hates white people and is an anti-colonial socialist Kenyan who is coming after your guns and doesn’t love America. I’m not even going to get into the vile racist photoshops of he and his wife that circulate via email and comments on right wing blogs. But I will mention this:

Fed by antagonism toward President Obama, resentment toward changing racial demographics and the economic rift between rich and poor, the number of so-called hate groups and antigovernment organizations in the nation has continued to grow, according to a report released Wednesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Of course the focal point to all these lies was captured by the “birther” movement when our first African American president was also our first president who was required to show his birth certificate in order to prove that he is an American citizen. If you had any doubts about how that affected African Americans, take a look at Baratunde Thurston’s attempt to control his grief and rage as he talks about it.

And yet, the man to whom all this was directed has handled it all with compassion and grace. When he was vilified in the media for his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, he gave a speech about race in America. In that speech he not only identified with the racism black people have experienced in this country, he validated the anger that white people feel when they think their needs are being overlooked.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense.

So yes, President Obama said that if he had a son, he would look a lot like Trayvon Martin. That is simply a fact. With that statement he expressed empathy for parents who lost their son due to senseless violence. But if that’s all he has to say to incite claims that he is being “divisive,” heaven help us all!

I’ve really had it with this nonsense. If Republicans want to disagree with Obamacare, or his call for immigration reform, or the deal he recently negotiated with Iran…I say, bring it on. Let’s talk. But when right wing media is flooded with racial attacks on this President and then wants to turn around and blame him for the divide…that is simply a bald-faced lie.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.