PBS host Tavis Smiley embarrassed himself by criticizing the president’s Trayvon Martin remarks for the singular purpose of bashing Barack Obama.
Transcript via Meet The Press:
DAVID GREGORY: A history that doesn’t go away. And yet, Tavis Smiley, you were critical of the president. You said on Twitter, “His comments were as weak as pre-sweetened Kool-Aid. He took too long to show up and express outrage.”
TAVIS SMILEY: I appreciate and applaud the fact that the president did finally show up. But this town has been spinning a story that’s not altogether true. He did not walk to the podium for an impromptu address to the nation; he was pushed to that podium. A week of protest outside the White House, pressure building on him inside the White House pushed him to that podium. So I’m glad he finally arrived.
But when he left the podium, he still had not answered the most important question, that Keynesian question, where do we go from here? That question this morning remains unanswered, at least from the perspective of the president. And the bottom line is this is not Libya, this is America. On this issue, you cannot lead from behind.
What’s lacking in this moment is moral leadership. The country is begging for it, they are craving it. And I disagree with the president respectfully that politicians, elected officials, can’t occupy this space on race. Lincoln did, Truman did, Johnson did; President Obama did. He’s the right person in the right place, at the right time. But he has to step into his moment. I don’t want him to be like Bill Clinton, when he’s out of office, regretting that he didn’t move on Rwanda. I don’t the president to look back, David, and realize that he didn’t do as much as he could have in this critical moment.
MARC MORIAL: Tavis, let me make my point because my point is that in order to move a piece of legislation, in order to move action steps, the president can in fact lead. And the president is also in an environment of continuing obstruction, that you know well, that report on.
TAVIS SMILEY: Respectfully, Marc, nobody’s argued that he has been up against a headwind. The obstructionism is real. But with all due respect to my friend, Charles Ogletree, the professor’s wrong about this. I would ask you, lay on the table right now the evidence of how the president has been trying, Tree, to have a conversation about race–
CHARLES OGLETREE: I’m talking about action, Tavis, not just a conversation.
TAVIS SMILEY: I don’t think that we have a litany here of things, of moments, where he’s tried to have the conversation. To the contrary, respectfully, he’s tried to avoid the conversation. Number one. Number two, when he says a politician can’t have an impact on this, yes, he gives a wonderful speech, but he basically kicks it back to the community, to community leaders, to business leaders, to celebrities and athletes, and that’s real, but the president can’t absolve himself from it. Number two. And finally, number three, I don’t know how the president argued that he doesn’t believe that he can have a role in leading us in a moral conversation. This is not a political issue, this is a moral issue. I don’t know how he obviously can’t lead us in a conversation on this, but he can on gay marriage? He can on a litany of other–
If your read the transcript of Smiley’s remarks, you can see why he embarrassed himself. He never criticized what the president said about the death of Trayvon Martin. Instead, he pulled out his usual Obama bashing remarks. The president isn’t doing enough. The president is leading from behind. The president isn’t trying hard enough. Smiley’s main criticism of leading from behind came straight from the Republican Party.
theGrio knocked down Smiley’s main point that Obama was pushed into making his remarks, “An administration source on Friday told theGrio that the president watched the verdict, along with millions of Americans, last Saturday, and by Thursday, following intense conversations with members of his family, and with friends, Obama decided that he wanted to speak. The official told theGrio on background that Obama called a meeting of his senior staff late Thursday and told them he wanted to make a statement, but that he didn’t want to give a scripted speech, or even warn the press.” (Just like Republicans, Smiley is painting a picture of Obama that doesn’t really exist in order to portray himself as the hero.)
His other criticisms are the same old axes that he has been grinding for years against Obama. Smiley mentioned Johnson and Truman as political leaders on race, but what he didn’t mention was that those presidents could use their political position to either advance legislation or carry out executive action. Obama doesn’t have either of those options in this case.
Smiley wants Obama to be Martin Luther King, but Obama is the president, not a civil rights leader. He has the biggest bully pulpits in the world, and he used it effectively on Friday.
Meet The Press booked Tavis Smiley because of his Kool-Aid tweet in response to the president’s remarks on Trayvon Martin. Smiley seems to have a personal grudge against Obama, and his criticisms revealed the weakness of his argument. There are legitimate reasons to criticize President Obama. For instance, it can be argued that he hasn’t said enough on the issues of poverty and African-American unemployment but, bashing him for the sake of getting on national television was an embarrassment to the entire discussion of race in this country.
Jason is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association
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