One of the syndicated pundits wrote recently that the Republicans really, really, really don’t like President Barack Obama. I’m proudly among them and could document the reasons in the world’s longest column, chiefly because of his apparent pathological inability to tell the truth. But the biggest disappointment to me is something that is hardly mentioned at all by his detractors. Even more damning is the lack of his supporters’ attempts to prove that he has taken any true initiative to tackle one of the most debilitating cultural issues we face as a nation: false and misleading guidance to the black underclass. If Obama would have promoted and heralded the greatness of America with its unparalleled opportunities instead of blaming political foes and promoting dependency, he would have been a hero. He didn’t, and he’s not.
I have mentioned previously that I was strongly involved in the civil rights movement in the early ’60s, leading the college chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality. Although I have become disenchanted with the overall movement, I am still committed to the same goals that motivated me then, which is essentially becoming a race-blind society. Unfortunately, hucksters such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have thoroughly perverted the goal, turning it into an extortionist machine feeding their organizations with threats and boycotts. This is their business. The fact that institutional racism defined as hating a person because of his or her color has almost disappeared is irrelevant to them.
The one man who could have changed all this is Obama. Much of the focus on particular issues emanates from the top, as the strident voices of Jackson and Sharpton prove. But even their millions of black followers pale in comparison to the bully pulpit of the president of the United States. For if his call to action would have seemed at odds with them had he taken the high road in giving the right messages, it’s actually likely they would have fallen in line preaching a similar path to a successful life.
I am on a couple of boards of directors dealing with re-entry into the community of serious felons. During a recent facility tour, they explained the basic principles they found necessary to prepare them to live as responsible citizens: work ethic, avoiding drugs and booze, respect for others, educating oneself to advance in society and most important, taking responsibility for one’s own actions. As they went through this program, I burst out saying “Hell, they need this at Harvard.” The director of the facility laughed and replied “Well, you gotta come to prison to learn such principles these days.” Very nearly true.
More than a hundred years ago, the battlefield was set for the war we are still fighting today. Booker T. Washington argued vehemently that blacks should study and work hard earning the respect of peers and communities in which they lived. W.E.B. Dubois essentially counter argued that demonstrations and confrontation against the white man were the road to immediate equality. We can see who won the argument. There is little doubt that such legal victories such as Brown vs. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Acts of the mid-’60s were instrumental in making bigotry a shame rather than a badge. But for the great majority of our citizens, this has been accomplished.
If President Obama would have built on this success by demanding the principles enumerated above, what a difference it would have made. Unfortunately, he has only exacerbated the victimization syndrome, and I do not mean just for racial minorities. What a squandered opportunity. It is the one area which his administration could have claimed victory.
Gary Hofmeister is the owner and operator of Hofmeister Personal Jewelers in downtown Steamboat, a company he founded in 1973. He is a director of The Steamboat Institute and a former Republican nominee for Congress in the 10th District of Indiana. He made 18 trips to the former USSR to teach democratic-capitalism during the 1990s.