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Ezra Klein: Obama Afraid To Rip America Apart With Ferguson Speech

Ezra Klein's formerly useful explainer site now appears to be chiefly devoted to explaining how President Obama ruins everything.
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Ezra Klein's formerly useful explainer site now appears to be chiefly devoted to explaining how President Obama ruins everything. Last week, Obama was "breaking politics," and this week, he's narrowly avoiding dividing the nation by toning down his remarks on the killing of Mike Brown by Ferguson, Missouri policeman Darren Wilson.

This afternoon, President Obama gave another surprise press conference, at which he discussed developments in Iraq, as well as the situation in Ferguson, and took several questions. Klein begins by summing the whole thing up this way:

The main news in Obama's remarks was that Attorney General Eric Holder will be traveling to Ferguson — which mostly highlights that Obama has not traveled to Ferguson, and has no plans to do so.

To the careful listener, there was actually a lot more news in this presser than that, which I'll get to in a minute, but right off the bat, he's introducing an expectation that no one has seriously placed on the President: that he travel to Ferguson. It has been a rough week-plus in Missouri, no doubt about it, but this is not Katrina. Hell, it's barely a Keith Urban concert. As the President said on his speech, most of the protests have been peaceful, and what violence there has been has been mostly from non-residents. The people of Ferguson don't need President Obama to calm them down.

As Klein notes, the reviews weren't great from the folks that some of my Twitter followers calls "Blacker Than Thou, Inc.", and chalks the President's "clinical" remarks up to a desire not to ruin things the way he always does:

President Obama might still decide to give a speech about events in Ferguson. But it probably won't be the speech many of his supporters want. When Obama gave the first Race Speech he was a unifying figure trying to win the Democratic nomination. Today he's a divisive figure who needs to govern the whole country. The White House never forgets that. There probably won't be another Race Speech because the White House doesn't believe there can be another Race Speech. For Obama, the cost of becoming president was sacrificing the unique gift that made him president.

Now, there's probably some truth to the analysis that the White House would have liked to have avoided things like the Skip Gates brouhaha, but that's not because President Obama is a divisive figure, it's because white people, especially conservatives, are gaping assholes. President Obama was absolutely right, the Cambridge Police did act stupidly by arresting Professor Henry Louis Gates in his own home, unless Gates got convicted of something and we all missed it.

Klein is also wrong that President Obama has avoided such controversies during his presidency, unless we all imagined the blistering Shitnado that followed his empathetic remarks about Trayvon Martin's killing, or his uncompromising critique of racism in America following the George Zimmerman verdict. There's a much simpler reason that President Obama didn't get all "passionate" at today's press conference, and he gave it from the podium:

"I have to be very careful about not prejudging these events before investigations are completed because, although these are issues of local jurisdiction, the DOJ works for me and when they're conducting an investigation I’ve got to make sure that I don't look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other."

Maybe Klein missed that episode of Schoolhouse Rock. The President is sending Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson, and hopefully, he will put a stop to the mayhem being done to the investigation by local authorities. If pressure needs to be applied, that is where it needs to go, not to insisting that the President show up to take Ferguson to church. Now, once a verdict has been rendered in whatever legal proceeding stems from this investigation, you might see a good deal more "passion" from the President.

As for the negative reviews, Klein seems to misunderstand the function of "Blacker Than Thou, Inc.", which is not to weigh the political calculus involved in presidential actions, but to be a factor in that calculus. Nobody expects President Obama to morph into an activist on that podium, but they have to push for that, because that's what activists do.

On the news front, the President indicated, much more strongly, that he is exerting pressure and influence on Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, at one point saying, of Nixon's National Guard deployment, that "I'll be watching over the next several days to assess whether, in fact, it's helping rather than hindering progress in Ferguson," and as you heard him tell Ann Compton, he feels a duty to "mak(e) sure that (the Mike Brown investigation is) conducted in a way that is transparent, where there’s accountability, where people can trust the process."

If the local authorities continue to conduct themselves like Boss Hogg's in-laws, the President and/or AG Holder may press Nixon for a change of venue, and the President's willingness to telegraph this level of involvement is significant.

On the Iraq front, the President has now gone from saying "American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again" in June, to saying, today, that "we are not reintroducing thousands of U.S. troops back on the ground to engage in combat," a significant bit of rhetoric creep that seemed to fly right by everyone on the briefing room. Put a pin in that.

Finally, on a personal note, the President had some very kind remarks for ABC News Radio White House Correspondent Ann Compton, who is retiring. As a longtime colleague of Ann's, I couldn't agree more with the President when he said "we’re going to miss you, and we’re very, very proud of the extraordinary career and work that you’ve done, and we hope you’re not a stranger around here."

Here's the full video of the President's press conference, including the two-minute pre-roll (you can skip that if you like, but it's a great window into how the news gets made):

Update: In other Ferguson news, people are now straight-up throwing rocks at Chris Hayes, and telling him and Craig Melvin to "tell the true story." Hayes and Melvin hung in there. This is from about 11:06 pm eastern time: