On a previous post, Phillip said that he likes Bill Maher (or at least excuses him) because “I find myself agreeing with him about 99% of the time.” I made it fairly clear that I do not.
But there are people who I find myself agreeing with to a degree that it is remarkable — a rare experience for me, since I reject the orthodoxies of left and right (which enable the people who do adhere to them to find themselves agreeing with certain people a lot). A good example would be Tony Blair. When he expresses his reasoning behind a position, I am struck by how much it is just like what I would say — or wish I were clever enough to say.
I have a similar experience with President Obama. There are a lot of things I disagree with him on, rather vehemently in some cases. But then he expresses himself on an issue in a way that strikes me as just right, and I am deeply impressed. (Needless to say, on these occasions he’s being about as different from Bill Maher as any one person can be.)
Today was such an instance, when the president carefully weighed in on the Trayvon Martin tragedy. I haven’t commented on it myself because I have thought that everyone else was commenting in such a facile manner — generalizing the incident to fit their own political and social predilections — and I couldn’t find a way to grab ahold of the matter in a way I found meaningful.
But then the president said this:
“I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this,” Mr. Obama said. “All of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen.”…
“Obviously, this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through,” Mr. Obama said, his face grim. “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.”…
“You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Mr. Obama said, pausing for a moment. “I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
Normally, I tend to react against such a personal, emotional response. But in this case, it was exactly right, and the president was wise to recognize it.
To me, this isn’t some microcosm of racial injustice or gun culture gone wild or any other generalization. This is a case — as near as I can tell, and my knowledge of the case is limited — of a confused, emotional, panicky, cowardly man with a gun in his hand pulling the trigger and causing a deep, personal, specific tragedy.
Yes, the president made a genetic, racial observation in saying that his theoretical son would look like the victim in this case. But the more important part of it is that he appeals to “every parent in America” to look at this situation AS parents, rather than as participants in a political debate. It says to whites who may want to recoil and get indignant at seeing, for instance, Al Sharpton exploit yet another tragedy, Set that aside. Look at the personal tragedy. Think of your own kids. That’s what I’m doing.
That’s the wisest possible thing he could have said.
If there’s anything else useful to say about this case, that is the best starting point.