Favorite

A week of 'thunderbolts' 

click to enlarge President Obama (file photo)
  • President Obama (file photo)

"And then sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt."

—President Barack Obama

President Obama spoke those words last Friday immediately following the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court declaring "that laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter." But they could have also been spoken about the flurry of actions to remove the Confederate battle flag from public spaces across the South and the placing of all such symbols on the defensive. Or they could have been said about a Supreme Court decision one day earlier that cements the Affordable Care Act in the nation's public policy landscape. It was a week of "thunderbolts" all fueled in ways large and small by Obama and his presidency.

For decades, presidents and citizens alike have fought for a wholesale expansion of health care access in the United States. For decades, both black and white advocates have worked to remove the symbols that make many feel like foreigners in their native South and, in the eyes of many, foster ongoing race-based violence. And, for decades, gay and lesbian individuals have built a civil rights movement focused on weaving LGBT citizens into the American tapestry. In each case, to quote Obama, progress has shown itself "in small increments. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back, compelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens." The president is correct that the ongoing engagement of rank-and-file citizens is vital for lasting social and political change. However, in his speech Friday, he undersold the role a president who is in step with "political time" (to employ a phrase used by scholar of presidential leadership Stephen Skowronek) can play in locking in such change. Obama was central to progress in each area, using a combination of presidential powers: the rhetorical power to create a fertile soil in which change can grow, power in the legislative arena, executive orders, and power over appointments (especially to the Supreme Court).

Across the three topics, of course, the mix of powers employed by Obama in the pursuit of change has differed. On LGBT rights, the president's role has been multifaceted, employing rhetoric (especially his 2012 interview in which he explained his final "evolution" on the topic); legislative efforts (especially ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in late 2010); key executive orders (including antidiscrimination measures for federal contractors); and court appointees who showed the smarts not to push Justice Anthony Kennedy too far or too fast on the issue. The messy battle over Obamacare shows how much influence a president can have in playing defense once legislative change is made, giving the measure time to become more popular and more consequential in people's lives. On race, in addition to the appointment of an array of persons of color to high-level positions, Obama has been limited to symbolic and rhetorical power. While he and his family mark the personification of racial progress, as many have noted, he has most often not lived up to the promise shown in candidate Obama's "A More Perfect Union" — delivered in March 2008 in the midst of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright kerfuffle — that still represents one of the most thoughtful contemporary analyses of race in America. But, in the aftermath of the horrific violence at Charleston's Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church and the "grace"-filled expressions afterward by family members of those killed, Obama's unique position to talk about the persistence of racism in America was reignited and helped place pressure on state officials and corporate executives to act on symbols that many see as about hate rather than heritage.

In all three areas, much work remains to be done. As Obama said in his interview on Marc Maron's WTF podcast: "The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination" casts "a long shadow and that's still part of our DNA that's passed on." (And, it is increasingly clear, that Obama intends to use his post-presidential years to focus on the challenges facing young black men, including the ongoing threat of gun violence.) Until states fully embrace Medicaid expansion (and, it will be years, as Arizona did not become part of the original Medicaid program until 1982), uninsured rates will be significant in many parts of the country. And, the continued discrimination allowed against LGBT individuals in the workplace, housing and other aspects of public life through the absence of comprehensive federal legislation means that, in many places, gays and lesbians literally can be married one day and fired the next. The generational dynamics on all three issues, however, indicate that the youngest voters are most supportive of the president's perspective, boding well for the possibility of more progress.

From his WTF interview to his extraordinary Friday eulogy of Pastor Clementa Pinckney and the others killed at Mother Emanuel, it is hard to remember a week in which a president controlled the tenor and content of the news cycles across a variety of topics as did Obama. It shows how, six-and-a-half years into his administration, it is now Obama's America in ways large and small. Elections have consequences, although those consequences often take years to percolate. Then they arrive like a thunderbolt.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Tags:

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Jay Barth

  • Remembering Elaine

    Elaine's 1919 race massacre marked, probably, the deadliest event of racial violence in U.S. history.
    • Apr 20, 2017
  • Trump's purge

    As is typical, President Trump has tweeted about any number of subjects in recent days. They ranged from advising former NSA head Michael Flynn that he should seek immunity for testimony related to the Trump/Russia case to personal insults directed toward "Meet the Press" host Chuck "Sleepy Eyes" Todd.
    • Apr 6, 2017
  • GOP health care

    There is this little thing called the Affordable Care Act that screams "danger ahead" for Republicans in Arkansas.
    • Mar 9, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Ban the box in Little Rock

    In the latest evidence of the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement in shaping the American policy agenda, this past week has become "ban the box" week.
    • Nov 4, 2015

Most Shared

  • Executionpalooza

    Appearances count. I was struck by a single sentence over the weekend in a full page of coverage in The New York Times devoted to the killing spree in Arkansas, beginning with a front-page account of the recent flurry of legal filings on pending executions and continuing inside with an interview with Damien Echols, the former death row inmate.
  • Art bull

    "God, I hate art," my late friend The Doctor used to say.
  • Not justice

    The strongest, most enduring calls for the death penalty come from those who feel deeply the moral righteousness of "eye-for-an-eye" justice, or retribution. From the depths of pain and the heights of moral offense comes the cry, "The suffering you cause is the suffering you shall receive!" From the true moral insight that punishment should fit the crime, cool logic concludes, "Killers should be killed." Yet I say: retribution yes; death penalty no.
  • Judge Griffen writes about morality, Christian values and executions

    Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who blogs at Justice is a verb!, sends along a new post this morning.
  • The Ledell Lee execution thread

    Arkansas Times contributor Jacob Rosenberg is at the Cummins Unit in Grady filing dispatches tonight in advance of the expected execution of Ledell Lee, who was sentenced to death for the Feb. 9, 1993, murder of Debra Reese, 26, who was beaten to death in the bedroom of her home in Jacksonville.

Latest in Jay Barth

  • Remembering Elaine

    Elaine's 1919 race massacre marked, probably, the deadliest event of racial violence in U.S. history.
    • Apr 20, 2017
  • Trump's purge

    As is typical, President Trump has tweeted about any number of subjects in recent days. They ranged from advising former NSA head Michael Flynn that he should seek immunity for testimony related to the Trump/Russia case to personal insults directed toward "Meet the Press" host Chuck "Sleepy Eyes" Todd.
    • Apr 6, 2017
  • Worse than N.C.'s bathroom bill

    SB 774 extends birth certificate requirement to bathrooms in all public facilities, and that's an original birth certificate, too.
    • Mar 23, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Event Calendar

« »

April

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Art bull

    • the nice thing about art is that it is what it is, but what it…

    • on April 22, 2017
  • Re: Executionpalooza

    • Fantastic work-from-home opportunity for everyone... Work for three to five hrs a day and start…

    • on April 21, 2017
  • Re: Erasing humanity

    • Exactly how I feel only written much better than I could.

    • on April 21, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation