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Why The Trayvon Martin Case Is Bad For Obama

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The Trayvon Martin case is a minefield in just about every way imaginable.

It has the potential in these heady and deeply sensitive times to rip the bandaid off unhealed wounds at the heart of the perpetual work-in-progress that is the modern American condition. But for all the tragedy, the confusion, and the fracturing, dissonant polarization that seems to have exploded from this incident, The White House must be cursing its bad luck.

The reason is pretty blunt. The Martin case has the potential to be a serious lose-lose for the President, who was all over the place in his response to the case in questions yesterday. His statement at once reached out on the one hand to the African-American community, and on the other kept the United States at a distance from the case. But it’s just the beginning of a very bumpy ride for President Obama.

There seems little doubt that George Zimmerman did indeed utter a racial epithet during his pursuit of Martin. And as Jeffrey Toobin suggests, that could carry the potential for the case to be tried under Federal law, because there was clearly some racial animus in play during the confrontation. Over the next few weeks, the pressure for Federal intervention will build. And as it does, a cocktail of social media frenzy and genuine long-term African-American grievances in Florida will push the state’s black minority to breaking point. It doesn’t help that Zimmerman is a Hispanic, just to add insult to injury.

Marches, demonstrations, almost inevitably violence, and even full-scale riots, might send us hurtling back to the sixties, as if Civil Rights was just a chimera. Regardless of the truth of that – and there is a strong case to suggest that an insidious profound racism is still rampant in US society – there may be a wave of anger that will be hard to put back in the bottle in short order. Already, incendiary comments by “New Black Panthers” and others don’t portend well for how this will play out. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are going to work, and the future looks bleak for calm, measured debate on the matter.

During this inexorable rise in temperature, we’ll be moving into a hot, riot-friendly Summer and towards a General Election in the fall. That the contest will be close nobody doubts. That it once more feature Florida as a critical battleground state is also not debated. The problem for the White House is that its room for maneuver in this case is poor, and that could affect how the campaign plays out in the not-so-sunshiny state.

On the one side will be the genuine hurt felt by the African American community in Florida and beyond. An innocent, unarmed black kid was gunned down after he was accosted by a community-condoned vigilante carrying a permitted concealed weapon. The local police, using an absurd, unworkable “Stand Your Ground” law as shield let the shooter walk away after a cursory overview of the 911 tape, and the testimony of a single witness corroborating George Zimmerman’s self-defense story. In classic Jim Crow style they assumed the case would just go away. They were wrong. It may turn out that Zimmerman is telling something approximating the truth. He may well have acted in self-defense, against Martin, but he still should have been arrested and indicted, because his version could not have been known to be true beyond a reasonable doubt at that time. The proper place for the case to have been and to be heard is in the courts.

The question is – which courts.

Barack Obama has always had an awkward relationship with the African-American community. Until some fateful slip-ups by the Clintons back in ’08, played brilliantly by the insurrectionary Obama campaign, black voters were not in his camp. Now they are, especially in Florida, where the economy has been hit especially hard. But if the African-American community sees that their African-American President is not coming to their aid in reversing the injustices in this case, a few percentage points might just be disillusioned enough to stay home in November. And in Florida, as we know, it doesn’t take much to change the decision one way or the other. You can bet that Obama, or his people in the White House or Florida will be on the phone to Governor Rick Scott in Tallahassee to cajole him into doing the right thing and arresting Zimmerman.

As for Scott, he’s looking at the opposite problem. If he has Zimmerman arrested, he’ll have the Panhandle crackers and many Hispanics on his back, which in Florida GOP politics is bad for business. Scott won election in 2010 by a mere sixty thousand votes. It’s not like he needs the black vote to keep his job. He never has and he never will. But he does need North Florida whites. So he’ll stall with inquiries knowing that doing nothing is way better for him and his supporters. And there’ll be the general election on his mind too. Doing right by the national GOP doesn’t do Rick any harm for his reelection bid.

The politics of this case do not favor the President. If he brings a Federal case against Martin, successful or not, there will be a huge swathe of white Americans that will see him as a black man acting to protect his own race. Many of them will be blue-collar Democrats in swing states who are quietly or less quietly racist themselves, and they could trust Obama that much less as a result of his apparent “interference”.  And if he or the DOJ resists calls to Federalize the case, for whatever reason, leaving it in the untrustworthy hands of Rick Scott, then Obama will be seen as having abandoned his black brothers. Of course, the White House will do its best to protect the President from damage, but some of the flak will get through, and in Florida ( and as Florida goes, perhaps America), where only a few thousand votes separate victory from defeat, just a little shrapnel can be fatal. You can be sure that the GOP, are looking forward to playing the race card on this one whenever and wherever they can.


Written by coolrebel

March 25, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Washington

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