President Obama can’t be expected to attend every NAACP convention, but he should reconsider skipping this year’s event in Kansas City.
If Obama thinks he needs to stay away to counter the absurd accusation that he is prejudiced against whites, he need not bother. People with that mind-set never let the truth get in the way of their opinion of the president. Obama’s staff says he’s too busy to visit the convention, which begins Saturday. (First lady Michelle Obama will address it Monday.) But, despite wars and a depression, every president since Herbert Hoover found time for the NAACP.
Seven months after his inauguration, the president made a memorable speech at last year’s centennial anniversary convention of the NAACP in New York. But he needs to come back. There is much to be said about race relations in America at this time, and much of it involves the nation’s first black president. Persistent haters like Erik Rush, author of Negrophilia: From Slave Block to Pedestal, America’s Racial Obsession, are actually accusing Obama of racism. As evidence they cite the Justice Department’s decision not to pursue a Philadelphia voter-intimidation case involving a group called the New Black Panther Party.
In November 2008, party members Jerry Jackson and King Samir Shabazz showed up at a polling place dressed in black uniforms. Shabazz brandished a nightstick, and the two men made intimidating remarks to both white and black voters. The Bush Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit against the two, but the defendants never responded, which had the same effect as pleading guilty. The Obama Justice Department decided not to pursue any penalties against Jackson, who was actually a certified poll watcher. But a court order was issued that prohibits Shabazz from displaying a nightstick or any other weapon within 100 feet of a Philadelphia polling place through 2012.
Some critics say Obama and his black attorney general, Eric Holder, were lenient because they are biased. These critics equate the New Black Panther Party to the Ku Klux Klan in its heyday. In fact, the group is more accurately described by Abigail Thernstrom, longtime Republican member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as a “lunatic fringe.” That’s not to say small hate groups aren’t dangerous. But the scale of justice must be applied appropriately, and here it appears that it was. Attempts to inflate the incident to bash Obama must be seen for what they are. And the NAACP meeting would be a good setting for Obama to address that.
Obama is one of today’s new-age black politicians who eschew racial politics. Some, like failed Alabama gubernatorial candidate Artur Davis, have faltered because black voters believe they are being ignored. Obama can reassure the NAACP delegates that he is still everyone’s president. He has been reluctant to talk about race, but sometimes, as it was when Obama made his 2008 speech here at the National Constitution Center, the subject simply can’t be avoided.