President Barack Obama at the NAACP Centennial: Moving, Charming, but a Profile in Lack of Courage

–Richard E. Vatz

I have written regarding President Barack Obama’s expropriation of the conservative god term “responsibility” and have questioned his consistency and sincerity in his support of that value, with the caveat that I didn’t know whether he was “intentionally deceiving the American People.”

I still don’t know, but he and his administration continue to abjure responsibility for the economy, for example, by repeatedly emphasizing that the country’s economic problems are “inherited” from the George W. Bush Administration.

But let’s look at a speech in which he again ostensibly supports “responsibility” and see how well he assumes that mantle himself: the speech he gave on July 16 to the NAACP Centennial Convention celebrating its 100th anniversary.
The Obama speech was well-written, moving and basically accurate, unless “accuracy” requires the addressing of all relevant matters.

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President Obama complimented the NAACP for its bravery and success in overcoming historic discrimination. He referenced the stultifying bigotry of low expectations, first articulated by George W. Bush in a speech to the NAACP in 2000. As a social liberal of the 1960’s, I can attest to the omnipresence of racial discrimination of that era – it was everywhere, including politics, housing, education and occupation, first grossly legally and then it was acceptable by subtle exclusionary practices. I witnessed some of the uglier aspects of racism in polite society when I was a student at Vanderbilt University in the 1960’s and saw the first African-Americans at that school viciously harassed and insulted.

The NAACP and other anti-discrimination bodies deserve unbounded credit for opposing — and courageously opposing — this cancer on individual freedom.

With apologies to my excellent, but liberal, ex-professor Robert Newman, who taught at the University of Pittsburgh, there should be an anti-Dale Carnegie principle of telling people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Nothing in President Obama’s speech to the NAACP took guts. Some, particularly in the mainstream media, are claiming that this was “tough talk,” emphasizing his phrase, “no excuses.” They heard a speech that passed for tough talk but avoided tough, specific points-at-issue.

One of the questions that plagues the NAACP and its supporters deals with the organization’s role of representing African-American interests at a time when de jure discrimination against African-Americans is a thing of the past and de facto discrimination is on the wane.

The really tough issue is fatherless males and violent crime. This is not a problem exclusive to African-Americans, but it is proportionally hyper-present among them. According to the liberal think tank, the Brookings Institution, the rates of black infants born out of wedlock is around 65% to about 20% for whites. Further, the statistics showing the correlation between the high proportion of father-absent African American males and the commission of violent crime are overwhelmingly indisputable. One can debate the precise accuracy of statistics, but the conclusion is inescapable: the existence of “one-parent, no father families” is so clearly related to the commission of serious crime (and, of course, other social pathologies) that if you eliminate that factor, as Harvard lecturer of public policy Elaine Kamark and Brookings Institute scholar William Galston note, “it erases the relationship between race and crime.”

The NAACP, whose support for President Obama was critical in his attaining the presidency, could have been told that the black community needs to provide significant psychological and economic disincentives for having children born out of wedlock and raising father-absent children, phenomena that plague all communities, but disproportionately affect the African-American community.

How often was the issue raised in President Obama’s address? Not at all. Not once. Not hinted at.

A recent Gallup Poll indicated an astonishing 96% level of support of the President by African Americans. That kind of support gives speakers leeway to tell that audience things they may not want to hear, but things that would benefit them and those they represent.

A gifted rhetorical speaker is a wonder to behold, and along with current-era Presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, President Obama’s rhetorical power and its effect on audiences is, not surprisingly, a wonder to behold. Give me a charismatic speaker and a place to put him or her, and I’ll move the world.

But without a touch of courage, no one will be moved in much of a different direction, including effecting critical behavioral change.

Professor Vatz teaches Persuasion at Towson University

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