Lessons from Ferguson—A Tale of Two Columns (and a Twitter Rant that Tops Them Both)

Obama-Ferguson side by side

Columns from parallel universes

At first glance, they seem so similar. Both issuing a call for this president who, uniquely among presidents, seems shaped to bring order, hope, and clarity to continuing racial bitterness in America.

If only he would come to Ferguson.

If only he would speak into the situation.

The first of the two that I read was by Ron Fournier. Headlined, Obama Should Go to Ferguson and This Is What He Should Say, he began:

President Obama should go to Ferguson, Mo., stand amid the broken glass and smoking embers, and speak to the two Americas—whites and blacks, the descendants of slaves and the descendants of the immigration experience.

Then somebody alerted Fournier that Brian Beutler had the same idea:

Beutler’s column, Go to Ferguson Right Now, President Obama, and Give Your Biggest Race Speech Yet, begins differently, with a seeming indictment of the president:

President Barack Obama’s unwillingness to wade deeply into the thicket of passions, grievances, suspicions, and resentments that materialized after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, has disappointed some of his strongest supporters. His decision has been interpreted as strategic retrenchment—a determination not to polarize the public’s impressions of Ferguson the way he did when he expressed a kind of racial solidarity with the parents of Trayvon Martin two and a half years ago.

Finally, in the fourth paragraph, Beutler introduces the idea of Obama visiting Ferguson:

The Grand Jury’s decision has reignited protests in Ferguson, and political leaders of all levels, including Obama himself, are pleading for restraintmostly from the protestors themselves, but also from those who’ve taken up arms in anticipation of looting and riots. At the same time, Obama says he’s “going to wait and see” how the public reacts to the news before deciding whether to visit Missouri.

But he should go regardless. This is Obama’s first opportunity (for lack of a better word) to use the bully pulpit to steer the national agenda in a positive direction since the slaughter at Newtown, Connecticut, and it’s the first time since he became a national figure that he’ll be able to address a racially charged issue without an election in his future to deter him.

Fournier spends his column suggesting what the president should say in Ferguson.

Beutler, on the other hand, wishes Mr. Obama were more like his soon-departing Attorney General. He of New Black Panther surrender, Fast and Furious, spying on journalists, and suing states who try to give their poor people equal access to good schools.

Fournier draws his counsel from a speech of the president’s when he was a candidate under fire:

Obama should acknowledge that political correctness disguises, but does not diminish, the resentments harbored by blacks and whites. The anger simmers until it boils—until it spills out into the open, as it did last night in Ferguson. And as it did during an ugly moment in the spring of 2008, when he said: “I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together—unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction—towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.”

That paragraph was preceded by this clause: “I choose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because …” In fact, every quote in this column comes from the March 18, 2008, address that Obama delivered at a moment when his barrier-busting presidential campaign seemed derailed by the hateful views of his minister, Jeremiah Wright.

 Fournier’s suggestion to Obama is an appeal to the president’s better nature.

Beutler’s is nothing more than a call to continue pouring fuel on the fire of racialism.

Both share a weakness:

The spent idea that 200-year-old crises can be solved through speechifying.

 Why do they think this president can triumph where presidents like Lincoln tried and failed?

The Twitter rant that tops them both

One of my Twitter friends went on a most valuable rant today.

I will let him speak for himself (including the inevitable glitches when fingers can’t keep up with brain):


Most of us seem to be learning the wrong lessons from Ferguson.

Police overreaction and/or racism isn’t ancient history. But making every shooting of a black youth by a white cop a symbol won’t solve it.

Here’s something I said last night in response to an incredibly condescending and toxic tweet:

We can do better.

Let’s change what we’re doing.

Let’s begin by carefully, systematically, empathetically—

Speaking the truth.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s