Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Strengthen race relations be feeling free to criticize Obama

Juan Williams pleads with the media, now that Barack Obama is president, to treat him as they would any other president. They should be critical and depart from the hagiographic treatment that they used during the campaign. As Williams argues, treating him differently now would demonstrate a different kind of prejudice - the fear that a black man can't succeed unless there is a thumb held on the journalistic scales.
If his presidency is to represent the full power of the idea that black Americans are just like everyone else -- fully human and fully capable of intellect, courage and patriotism -- then Barack Obama has to be subject to the same rough and tumble of political criticism experienced by his predecessors. To treat the first black president as if he is a fragile flower is certain to hobble him. It is also to waste a tremendous opportunity for improving race relations by doing away with stereotypes and seeing the potential in all Americans.

Yet there is fear, especially among black people, that criticism of him or any of his failures might be twisted into evidence that people of color cannot effectively lead. That amounts to wasting time and energy reacting to hateful stereotypes. It also leads to treating all criticism of Mr. Obama, whether legitimate, wrong-headed or even mean-spirited, as racist.

This is patronizing. Worse, it carries an implicit presumption of inferiority. Every American president must be held to the highest standard. No president of any color should be given a free pass for screw-ups, lies or failure to keep a promise.
Given the sense of racial guilt that many whites, particularly liberal whites carry with them and the fact that the White House press corps lacks a certain diversity, racial as well as ideological of course, I doubt we'll see reporters responding to Juan Williams' request that they are as critical of Obama as they would be if he were white. But perhaps there are a few brave souls who will be willing to perform the adversarial function that journalists are always so proud of.