Charles Pierce: These are some things the president of the United States cannot say but that I can say about him. Because he is a black man, he has an obligation to be grateful to the white people who voted him into office. Because he is a black man, he has an obligation not to use the full powers of his office in such a way as to alienate any of the white people who so graciously voted him into office. Because he is a black man, he has an obligation not to use the full advantages of his office in his effort to get those white people to reelect him as their president for another four years. Because those white people voted him into office, his primary job as president is to make sure his entire presidency is a demonstration of how far we’ve come as a nation on race, and that means he is not allowed to do anything or say anything that the white people who elected him can perceive to be divisive, because his primary function is to make them feel good about themselves. In theory, at least, all presidents are servants of the people who elected them. In the case of Barack Obama, it has seemed from the start that the idea as applied to him was more than mere metaphor. He is the first president in my lifetime whom the country felt obligated to remind that he know his place.
The rules of the office changed on him just about the second that his hand came off the Bible in January 2009. Every benefit of every doubt that ever was given to every president, good or bad, was not given to him…..
…. It has been hard not to notice that he is the first president in my lifetime who is treated as though he has been given permission by the country to lead it, a permission that can be rescinded at any time, for whatever reason, fair or foul.
…. The event of him is still remarkable. The idea that America elected a black man to be its president forty years after it declined to allow Martin Luther King Jr. to stand on a balcony without getting shot still maintains its power to awe and inspire. Of course, he can’t make full use of that, either, because as we know by virtue of his very election, race is no longer an issue in this country. But the rest of us can make of it what we will. Even in this, his second cautious, no-drama campaign, there remains a sense that you could get in on the making of history again. It’s time for Barack Obama to be as bold as he wants the rest of the country to be. If the path is narrow, you might as well run as walk.
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