In journalism school, Lesson One is usually the dual-purpose phrase “he said.” It identifies the source of a remark, but just as importantly, affirms the impossibility of knowing what’s in another person’s mind.
One byproduct of last week’s havoc in Ferguson, Missouri is the abundant speculation over President Obama’s reaction. Between the lines it’s not hard to find backhanded approval: he deplores arson and vandalism, but because it compromises the rioters’ message.
On Tuesday, he was quoted saying “The frustrations that we’ve seen are not about a particular incident. They have deep roots in many communities of color who have a sense that our laws are not always being enforced uniformly or fairly.”
We don’t know if he winked.
But that’s been covered to death; we’re still wondering what was in his mind. Was it unsubtle encouragement of racial score-settling, or a masterfully subtle attempt to direct Ferguson’s frustrations toward something besides legitimate disappointment in a half-century of expansionist government, currently overseen by someone they understandably regard as their own guy?
Black unemployment is double the rate for whites. The black poverty rate is nearly double that for whites. Both gaps have worsened under Obama. Median black household income has lost two percentage points against the white median since he assumed office.
Our hunch is a lot of Ferguson residents are frustrated, and have no need for those statistics because they’re living with the practical consequences. The administration’s trick is to deflect the blame.
If U.S. racial friction is at frightening levels, the new Republican congressional majorities have a precious opportunity to disarm it with a pro-growth agenda offering color-blind opportunity. It would be brilliant politics. Even better, it would be the right thing to do.