Pitts: The education of Barack Obama

 Leonard Pitts Jr., the eloquent and empathetic columnist for the Miami Herald whose work appears in more than 100 newspapers across the country (including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Sundays), believes that Barack Obama is a smart, gifted, visionary man.  But he’s got a problem with the President’s notion of compromise, and a theory as to why Obama so frequently seems blind-sided.

“I’m not a psychologist and I don’t pretend to be,” said Pitts, who, like the President, is black.  Obama often seems surprised by the level of vitriolic rancor that characterizes our political discourse today.  According to Pitts, this may be because he was raised in uncommon circumstances: by a white mother and white grandparents.

This upbringing, while undoubtedly advantageous, was unusual by both black and white standards.  But because it was normal for Obama, he may not realize that his family was an exception to the rule, Pitts theorizes.

“I believe that there is rancor in Republican hearts that Obama little dreams of,” he said.

Speaking to an almost-sold-out luncheon of the Women’s Democratic Forum in St. Louis on Sept. 1, Pitts reflected on some of the insults that have been directed toward Obama during the past three years.

“GOP insiders have called him ‘boy,’ ‘tar baby,’ and ‘a dick,’” Pitts said.  “A member of the House of Representatives shouted ‘you lie!’ during the state of the union speech.  The ‘birthers’ don’t even believe he is a citizen of this country.  We have not seen this before.  These people would rather have the country be ungovernable than let the President do his job.”

Pitts believes that the level of animosity directed toward Barack Obama is different from criticism other presidents have had to endure.

“What is different is the coarseness and crudity that emanates from within the political establishment,” he said.

Pitts contends that Obama does not understand how personal animosity to him drives his opposition.

“It’s in Obama’s nature to seek compromise; that’s how things get done,” he explained.  “But serious-minded people are in short supply in Washington today.  Compromise involves both give and take; it requires a partner.  Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, is on record as saying that his number one goal is to make sure that Obama is a one-term president.  Now, how do you compromise with that?”

In some ways, Barack Obama is trapped, Pitts believes.  He can’t confront the reality he faces and get angry, because the image of an angry black man in the oval office needs to be avoided.  During the campaign he pledged to avoid references to racism, so he can’t call this treatment what it really is.

It’s not racist to disagree with Obama, but it is racist to try to sabotage every effort he makes to govern the country just because “he’s a liberal black guy with a funny name,” Pitts said.  He believes it is time for Obama to start acting like the president, and to indicate that there are some things he will not compromise.  And then he will have to stick to his guns.

“This is not politics as usual,” Pitts said.  “This is not liberals versus conservatives.  This is reason versus unreason.  We have moments like this in American history, where some of us watch in horror as others lose their minds.  These are bizarre times.”