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Why Can’t Obama Talk To Black Americans Like That?
President Barack Obama was photographed getting his groove on at a Martha's Vineyard birthday party last night at a dinner where he sat next to Hillary Clinton following her well-publicized criticism of his foreign policy.
Reporters were not allowed into the private dinner celebration at the Farm Neck Golf Club, but White House spokesman Eric Schultz said afterward: 'The Obamas danced nearly every song. A good time was had by all.'
A photo of the president dancing was posted to Instagram by a fellow party goer, however it has now been deleted.
This photo of President Barack Obama partying the night away was posted to Instagram by fellow party guest Liz Cecil. It was quickly deleted this morning after news outlets began sharing it
Water under the bridge: 'We have disagreements as any partners and friends, as we are, might very well have,' Clinton told reporters crowded into a bookstore signing of her memoir Hard Choices yesterday
The White House said approximately 150 people attended the social function and noted that Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were among those who delivered 80th birthday toasts to guest of honor Ann Jordan, wife of Democratic adviser Vernon Jordan.
Obama, Clinton and their spouses sat at the same table and the Obamas were 'happy to have the chance to spend time with Secretary Clinton and former President Clinton.'
As the president and Clinton enjoyed a meal of surf and turf and pasta as it was revealed that U.S. and British troops were about to be deployed to a mountain in northern Iraq to save refugees who had been stranded there for more than a week.
Some 30,0000 Iraqis were still thought to be stuck on Sinjar Mountain as of yesterday evening, prompting the two countries to plan an international rescue mission. But special forces sent in by the U.S. to survey the situation discovered that most of the refugees had already escaped.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country would shift it's focus to providing food and water to the hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis, many of whom are camped out in the independent region of Kurdistan or Turkey.
Cameron rushed back from vacation yesterday to oversee his country's response to the humanitarian crisis while Obama stayed put at Martha's Vineyard.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius took a shot at Obama on Tuesday for continuing on with his two-week vacation while Iraq burned.
'I know it is the holiday period in our Western countries,' Fabius said, 'but when people are dying, you must come back from vacation.'
Obama is not scheduled to return to Washington until Sunday. He'll spend two days at the White House attending meetings and then return to Martha's Vineyard to finish out his vacation.
While the president has refused to cancel his holiday or come back early, he has attempted to stay out of public the eye in the last day and a half.
On the first four days of his trip Obama went golfing three times and took a trip to the beach with his family. Yesterday, he opted not to leave his vacation home except to attend Mrs. Jordan's birthday party at Farm Neck Golf Club, where he was expected to rendezvous with Clinton.
Obama has continued on his vacation in Martha's Vineyard as displaced members of the Yazidi community were evacuated from from the Sinjar Mountains. Thousands of displaced Iraqis are now fleeing into Syria through the Fishkhabur bridge over the Tigris river in Northern Iraq
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are now displaced and are living in refugee camps in Syria, Turkey and the Kurdish region
The former rivals' meet-up at last night's party was hotly anticipated in the wake of Clinton's criticisms of Obama's approach to foreign policy in an interview with the Atlantic that was released over the weekend.
'Great nations need organizing principles, and "don't do stupid stuff" is not an organizing principle,' she said, referring to a version of the phrase Obama and his advisers have used privately to describe his approach to foreign policy.
The former Secretary of State's critique came at a particularly challenging time for Obama, with bombs falling on Iraq and disputes raging in Syria, the Mideast, Ukraine and elsewhere.
An Obama spokesman said yesterday that the White House 'is looking onwards and upwards,' while Clinton joked she was planning on hugging it off with her former boss.
'We have disagreements as any partners and friends, as we are, might very well have,' Clinton told reporters crowded into a bookstore signing of her memoir Hard Choices yesterday.
'But I'm proud that I served with him and for him, and I'm looking forward to seeing him tonight.'
The media was not allowed in to see whether Clinton delivered her promised make-up hug after she tried to set herself apart from the unpopular Obama in a recent interview, but Schultz insisted yesterday that Clinton and Obama 'have had many hugs over the years' and the forthcoming one would be no different.
A former top Obama adviser, David Axelrod, took to Twitter to jab Clinton back: 'Just to clarify: "Don't do stupid stuff" means stuff like occupying Iraq in the first place, which was a tragically bad decision.'
Clinton voted in favor of the Iraq War in 2002, while Obama voiced opposition.
The very public foreign policy disagreement was Clinton's biggest split with Obama since their 2008 presidential primary campaign when she questioned whether her younger Senate colleague was qualified to take a 3 a.m. phone call on an emergency.
Clinton took a more hawkish stance than Obama in that campaign, particularly on the Iraq War, but Obama put their bitter contest behind them by naming her his top diplomat.
Clinton loyally carried out Obama's foreign policy agenda for four years but described some objections she raised internally in Hard Choices, which focuses on her time in the administration.
She expanded on those objections in her Atlantic interview, saying Obama's 'failure' to fully support the rebels in Syria fueled the rise of Islamic State militants now the object of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.
Reporters who crowded in front of a table set up for Clinton's signing at the Bunch of Grapes bookstore yesterday asked her whether she disagreed with Obama's Iraq policy.
'I'm excited about signing books,' she said, turning to a line of hundreds that snaked through the rainy streets near the ferry dock that brings summer visitors to the island.
Hillary Clinton and Obama attended the same birthday party last night in Martha's Vineyard but reporters were not allowed in. The last time Obama was seen publicly outside of the party was on Tuesday, when he was spotted playing golf in the afternoon and dining with his wife and several members of his administration at a local restuarant
About 1,000 copies of the book were bought in advance, and the store was open only for those who had made the purchases.
Schultz declined to say whether the president was upset over her critique of his performance as he juggles several crises overseas, although he acknowledged 'an honest policy difference' on the Syrian rebels.
The deputy press secretary said Obama appreciated that Clinton called the president Tuesday to say she was not trying to attack him.
'They have a close and resilient relationship,' Schultz said.
Last week, President Obama addressed a crowd of 500 young sub-Saharan Africans, fellows of his administration’s Young African Leaders Initiative. In a speech that lasted over 20 minutes, Obama told the fellows that the world needs a “prosperous and self-reliant” Africa but also that he believes in them and that they have the full support of the American government in revolutionizing their countries and communities — inspirational words uncommon in many of his other speeches to mostly-Black audiences.
“I want to thank you for inspiring us with your talent and your motivation and your ambition,” he said, looking out to the fellows. “You’ve got great aspirations for your countries and your continent. And as you build that brighter future that you imagine, I want to make sure that the United States of America is going to be your friend and partner every step of the way.” Later in the speech, he added, “So the point of all of this is we believe in you. I believe in you. I believe in every one of you who are doing just extraordinary things.”
The comments were beautiful, heartwarming even, but made me a little jealous.
As a Black American who works in media, mainly around Black issues and news, I couldn’t help but notice a distinct difference in the way Obama addressed the audience of young African fellows and the way he consistently speaks to American blacks. Where the fellows received praise, support and inspiration from the American president, American blacks are too often dressed down with messages of respectability, charges of pathology and calls for accountability.
Obama’s record of scolding Black audiences is pretty solid and well-covered in the media. In 2012, in response to a question about his administration’s lack of support for Black business, he told Black Enterprise magazine, “I’m not the president of Black America. I’m the president of the United States of America.” To the problem of violence in inner-city Chicago, Obama said last year, “…this is not just a gun issue; it’s also an issue of the kinds of communities that we’re building. When a child opens fire on another child, there is a hole in that child’s heart that government can’t fill. Only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole.”
It was this repeated rhetorical approach to Black audiences, in lieu of public policy solutions, that made Jesse Jackson, Sr. infamously want to “cut his nuts off” in 2008. Many forget that Jackson was reacting to what he felt was then candidate Obama “talking down to Black people” in a Father’s Day speech aimed at derelict Black dads.
But, perhaps, no example stands more in parallel and contrast to Obama’s recent speech to the young African fellows than that of his commencement address to the Morehouse College class of 2013.
On probably one of the happiest days of their young lives, President Obama told roughly 500 new graduates of the nation’s only institution for educating Black men that the time for excuses was over.
“We’ve got no time for excuses — not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven’t. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that’s still out there. It’s just that in today’s hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world, with a billion young people from China and India and Brazil entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned,” he said.
No “we believe in you.” No “the United States of America is going to be your friend and partner every step of the way.”
Delivering that message to roughly 500 Black men who just finished college was a proposition so jarring it warranted a reaction from The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates. Trevor Coleman, a former speechwriter for former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, told the Washington Post, “What made it so gratuitous was this was Morehouse College! In the African American community, the very definition of a Morehouse man is someone who is a leader, who is taught to go out and make a difference in his community.”
So how can the difference in Obama’s tone addressing Africans and Black Americans be explained?
In the Washington Post piece on Obama’s Morehouse speech, Leola Johnson, a professor of media and cultural studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., explained that Obama’s speeches “are actually not aimed at Black people” but whites, “liberals especially,” she said. With that in mind, there is something to be gleaned from his speeches in understanding African and Black American identities in the public imagination, or at least how President Obama leverages them.
In Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream, political scientist Christina M. Greer examines perceptions of Black ethnic groups and their status in American society. In a survey of Black New York City public service workers, she found Africans were deemed the most industrious of all Blacks. Afro-Caribbeans were ranked nearly as favorably. Black Americans, however, were perceived to be the least hard-working — even by native-born Blacks.
Greer explained her book’s findings by saying, “There are whites and elites and people in power who do see a distinction. They may not necessarily understand the distinction but they are seeing Caribbeans as immigrants, who may necessarily work harder, or Africans as immigrants who have greater aspirations than this — quote, unquote — last-place category of Black Americans. Essentially, I argue it’s no longer whites versus non-whites but this category of Blacks versus non-Blacks.”
Let’s hope that the current U.S. president doesn’t see it this way, even if his rhetoric suggests otherwise.