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Reprinted from Consortium News
President Barack Obama concludes a National Security Council meeting in the Situation Room of the White House, April 19, 2016.
(Image by (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)) Permission Details DMCA
Speaking at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation dinner on Saturday, President Barack Obama warned, in what has become for him a typically regal manner: "I will consider it a personal insult, an insult to my legacy, if this [African-American] community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election."
After a round of applause, Obama added: "You want to give me a good sendoff? Go vote."
While urging people to vote is fine, there's something troubling about how the President phrased it: that a person's decision to vote for Hillary Clinton should be determined by the need to protect his legacy. And, in the context of speaking to African-Americans, Obama was telling them that his blackness and theirs made a vote for Clinton necessary.
A similar call to identity politics troubled me, too, when Hillary Clinton sought to play the gender card. I would have been equally offended if when I became old enough to vote, my Irish-American relatives told me to vote for an Irish Catholic named John F. Kennedy because of our shared ancestry or religion. I would have found it condescending -- infantilizing even -- if anyone warned me that s/he would take it as a personal insult, were I not to vote for Kennedy.
I voted for Kennedy based on what I saw as his merits as a leader (and consider it the major tragedy of my lifetime that he may well have been killed for those merits).
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said: "I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin , but by the content of their character." But most of us know that basic article of fairness -- or should know that. Neither race nor gender should be the touchstone in voting this year or any year. Nor should white males vote for Donald Trump because he's one of them.
Yet, on the race side, Obama came perilously close to the gender comment made in February by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Challenging young women who were showing a preference for Bernie Sanders, Albright told them: "You have to help. Hillary Clinton will always be there for you. And just remember, there's a special place in Hell for women who don't help each other."
Au contraire: I might argue that if there is a Hell, there's a special place for a U.S. diplomat -- in the person of Albright -- who argued that the sanctions against Iraq, which the United Nations calculated had claimed the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children under five, were "worth it."
Clinton -- with her hawkish behavior on Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan and her similar disregard for those human costs (even while professing to care so much for the innocent civilians) -- appears to share Albright's view about using geopolitical power even when it results in the deaths of children. Even the usually timid Catholic bishops branded Albright's position "unconscionable."
Content of Obama's Character
As for the President and his imperious behavior, my friends and I have been debating whether Obama was always a fraud or whether he succumbed to Lord Acton's adage: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Or was he a talented outsider who -- because of his race and humble background -- desperately wanted to be accepted by the Establishment and feared that even as President he would be judged harshly by important people with blue-ribbon credentials and blue-blood pedigrees? Earlier in his presidency, I even speculated that Obama was physically scared of crossing the Establishment too directly, for fear of ending up like Kennedy and King.
One could argue that aspects of Obama's behavior as President fit all these possibilities. He does not appear to have sincerely believed many of his early pronouncements, such as the value of transparency in government and the importance of whistleblowers. He quickly morphed into one of the most secretive U.S. presidents and went after whistleblowers with a vengeance.
His war on whistleblowers also could be interpreted as a case of presidential powers going to his head. Or was he trying to prove to the Establishment that he, the son of a Kenyan student and a white mother in Hawaii, could protect the secrets even more aggressively than a white scion of the Establishment, like George W. Bush.