Back in 1978, President Jimmy Carter felt he had a big problem. He wanted to use an upcoming speech to send a major message to Moscow about the future of his policy toward the Soviet Union, but his main foreign policy advisers were split. His White House national security chief urged him to take a tougher line across-the-board, but his Secretary of State backed a more nuanced approach.
According to some of his aides, he finally dealt with the problem by taking the preparatory memos each of them wrote, stapling them together, and using the resulting contradictory document as the basis of the address. Not surprisngly, Carter simply succeeded in sowing confusion throughout the nation and around the world, and reinforcing a growing perception that he was a fatally indecisive leader.
What really happened is still up in the air. (See here for the background and a good description of some of the major conflicting accounts). But I dredge up this episode because President Biden’s remarks yesterday about the verdict in the “George Floyd trial” struck me as equally incoherent and troubling – at best.
It seems clear that the President was trying to walk an unquestionably fine line. On the one hand, he was trying to make the case that although former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering Floyd during an arrest, serious racial problems still plagued American law enforcement. On the other hand, he obviously recognized the dangers of describing all or even most or even lots of policemen and women as disgraceful racists in whom the nation – and especially minority Americans – should place no trust.
But it should also be clear that Mr. Biden’s apparent balancing act merited a solid “F.” He did state that “most men and women who wear the badge serve their communities honorably” and even that exceptions were “few.”
Those contentions, though, were exceptions themselves, for much more of the text consisted of a description of American law enforcement that not only included the systemic racism charge, but that accused the system literally of waging war on minorities.
What else can be concluded from his contentions about “the fear so many people of color live with every day when they go to sleep at night and pray for the safety of themselves and their loved ones”?
And about the need to “ensure that Black and brown people or anyone…don’t fear the interactions with law enforcement, that they don’t have to wake up knowing that they can lose their very life in the course of just living their life. They don’t have to worry about whether their sons or daughters will come home after a grocery store run or just walking down the street or driving their car or playing in the park or just sleeping at home”?
And about the imperative of “acknowledging and confronting, head on, systemic racism and the racial disparities that exist in policing and in our criminal justice system more broadly”?
Let’s leave aside for now the strong evidence that African Americans “want police to spend same amount of or more time in their area” – a share that stood at 81 percent according to a Gallup survey last summer. (For some other polling data powerfully challenging the systemic racism narrative, see this post.)
The most charitable conclusion possible is that Mr. Biden believes that this criminal justice system is systemically (meaning “deliberately?” “pervasively”? Both?) racist even though most of its foot soldiers – who interact with minorities the most often by far – somehow aren’t. That’s not exactly a resounding testament to his reasoning or analytical skills, or to his common sense.
Cynics could understandably decide that the President chose to pay a bit of lip service to cops before aggressively embracing the systemic racism school of thought in hopes of making everyone from politically moderate voters to his own party’s far Left happy.
And what’s to be made of a President who demonstrates absolutely no awareness that the views he’s expressing have little grounding in reality?
Near the end of his talk, Mr. Biden rightly warned about the threat posed by “those who will seek to exploit the raw emotions of the moment — agitators and extremists who have no interest in social justice; who seek to carry out violence, destroy property, to fan the flames of hate and division; who will do everything in their power to stop this country’s march toward racial justice. We can’t let them succeed.”
No sane person could accuse the President of supporting or fostering most of these outrages. But when it comes to “fanning the flames of hate and division,” his George Floyd remarks came uncomfortably close.