The term "bully pulpit" was coined by President Theodore Roosevelt to emphasize the power of the White House as a platform for advocating positions. TR devoted his messages to causes that included conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, consumer protection and strong character traits for America and its citizens. He believed that character is more important than intellect in making a person a good citizen and defined character as consisting "not only of such qualities as honesty and truthfulness, but courage, perseverance, and self-reliance." His goal was to strengthen and unify our nation. He encouraged Americans to move forward with a "shared sense of purpose," allowing "partisanship to give way to patriotism, and division to give way to unity."
Franklin D. Roosevelt used the bully pulpit to inspire our struggling nation. When he assumed office in 1933, America was in the throes of the Great Depression. His first inaugural speech emphasized unity and social cohesion. He spoke of "putting our own national house in order" and facing "our common difficulties." He explained that the road to progress would be built "on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, and on unselfish performance." He galvanized the nation by declaring, "… let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." During his presidency, FDR's vision and message led America out of the Great Depression and into victory in World War II.
Barack Obama has occupied the bully pulpit for more than seven years. Throughout his presidency, he consistently places race in the spotlight, promoting the divisive and inflammatory theme that blacks are victimized by an American system that is unfair, unjust and racist. A prime example of Obama's message was his May 2016 commencement address at Howard University. The following are excerpts from that speech, including his interpretation of "gaps" between blacks and whites:
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- "… even as we each embrace our own beautiful, unique, and valid version of our blackness, remember the tie that does bind us as African-Americans – and that is our particular awareness of injustice and unfairness and struggle."
- "We (blacks) have cousins and uncles and brothers and sisters who we remember were just as smart and just as talented as we were, but somehow got ground down by structures that are unfair and unjust."
- "We've still got an achievement gap when black boys and girls graduate high school and college at lower rates than white boys and girls."
- "We've got a justice gap when too many black boys and girls pass through a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails." He noted that, "When I was in college, about half a million people in America were behind bars. Today, there are about 2.2 million. Black men are about six times likelier to be in prison right now than white men."
Ironically, Obama contradicted his allegation of unfairness, injustice and racism during the course of his speech by reporting:
"(Blacks are) no longer small business owners – we're CEOs, we're mayors, representatives, presidents of the United States." He proclaimed, "… former Bull Michael Jordan isn't just the greatest basketball player of all time – he owns the team. … Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday night, and Beyonce runs the world." He made a point of noting that Harriet Tubman is "going on the twenty." He singled out Ciearra Jefferson, a graduating student who grew up in a fatherless family in Detroit where she spent an interval being homeless. After graduating high school, she received a full scholarship to Harvard, but opted to attend Howard instead.
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Obama's assertion of injustice defames America and alleviates individuals and local communities of responsibility for personal and social outcomes. Former basketball star Charles Barkley offers a view distinctly different from Obama's. He suggests that too many blacks are pulled down by fellow blacks rather than being "ground down by structures that are unfair and unjust." Barkley said, "… we as black people, we're never going to be successful not because of you white people but because of other black people. … For some reason we're brainwashed to think if you're not a thug or an idiot, you're not black enough." He used the analogy of "crabs in a barrel," where those on the bottom pull down those who try to make it out. He expressed concern over self-inflicted wounds within the black community and encouraged blacks to assume responsibility and invest their time and energy getting their own house in order.
There are abundant statistics that explain and/or debunk Obama's perceptions of gaps in "achievement" and "justice" between blacks and whites. He fails to acknowledge causative factors regarding these gaps. In "Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed," Jason L. Riley of the Manhattan Institute notes that more than 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock; furthermore, only 16 percent of black households are married couples with children, which is the lowest percentage of any racial group in the United States. This, more often than not, creates economic hardships, increases stress within families and deprives boys of family-oriented role models. Additionally, the coarse messages of rap music corrupt the attitude of too many black youth. As early as 1991, Chuck D of Public Enemy made the following observation during an interview with the Village Voice. "You walk into a fourth or fifth grade black school today, I'm telling you, you're finding chaos right now, 'cause rappers come in the game and threw that confusing element in it, and kids is like, Yo, f--- this."
Obama blames the disproportionate percentage of incarcerated black men on a justice gap; however, statistics reveal that blacks are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime. Data from three cities illustrate this point. In Oakland, California, blacks were 28 percent of the population in 2013 but accounted for 83 percent of the 12,161 violent crimes, according to Oakland Police Department crime suspect data. St. Louis, Missouri, is a city with a population that is 46.6 percent white and 47.5 percent black. Based on the city's 2015 UCR (Uniform Crime Report) Homicide Analysis, the following is a breakdown of homicide victims and suspects: Homicide Victims – 173 black, 15 white; Homicide Suspects – 112 black, 3 white. In Obama's adopted home of Chicago, there were 13 fatal shootings over Labor Day weekend. This raised the total number of 2016 homicides to over 500, with more than 2,930 victims shot and wounded in this city with highly restrictive gun-control laws. The vast majority of murders were the result of black-on-black aggression. These statistics are not atypical in urban settings.
Obama's bully pulpit message is one of unfairness, injustice and racism in America. He shirks the opportunity to encourage personal responsibility, families where fathers are present, appreciation for education, respect for authority, and patriotism. He fails to follow the example of the Roosevelts who promoted a "shared sense of purpose" and finding avenues to deal with "our common difficulties."