Attorney General Eric Holder often says the things President Obama can’t or won’t say. Especially when it comes to the hot button topic of race and race relations in America.
President Obama has eloquently spoken about the topic in the past but since he’s come into the White House it’s not a topic this administration has wanted to touch with a ten foot pole. Of course it’s entirely possible that President Obama has a million other pressing issues to tackle daily but his silence on the issue of race has not gone unnoticed by either his supporters or his harshest critics.
Attorney General Eric Holder is clearly playing by a different set of rules. Recently, when commenting on the level of animosity towards him and the calls for his resignation over the “Fast and Furious” controversy, Holder said, “Of that group of critics, Mr. Holder said he believed that a few — the “more extreme segment” — were motivated by animus against Mr. Obama and that he served as a stand-in for him.
“This is a way to get at the president because of the way I can be identified with him,” he said, “both due to the nature of our relationship and, you know, the fact that we’re both African-American.”
Mr. Holder’s tenure as Attorney General has been rife with calls for his resignation and partisan critics bashing his every move. The job of attorney general was certainly compromised in the previous administration which is contributing to the distrust of Holder but much of it stems from hyper-partisan disagreement and the need to dig up some sort of Obama administration scandal involving a high level official in order to force a resignation.
The Obama administration deals with Republican obstruction and political games from every angle but it’s the difference in responses to that political gamesmanship by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder that is particularly interesting. While President Obama has chosen to play the “grown up” in the room always explaining to the American people what needs to get done, what each of the political parties need to do to arrive at the desired result, and why when nothing gets done the Republican party’s refusal to compromise is to blame.
Even when President Obama was faced with never ending calls to show his “long form” birth certificate from the Donald Trump sideshow, President Obama did not call out “birthers” as racists, nor did he allude to the fact that his race may be a motivating factor in the “birther” phenomenon. Instead he took his tried and true “grown up” approach he has implemented all along emphasizing that the administration has more important things to do and the “birthers” were a silly distraction.
Attorney General Holder on the other hand has always called out Americas complicated history on race issues. Holder has also done so frankly and at times in a manner which caused much of the conservative blogosphere to claim he is “playing the race card.” In February 2009, Attorney General Holder was speaking in honor of Black History Month and said, ”[t]hough this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been and we — I believe continue to be in too many ways essentially a nation of cowards.”
Holder’s blunt criticism of our history was widely criticized by conservatives but ask any black person on the street and they would likely agree with the Attorney Generals’ comments. As much as we proclaim our progress on issues of race and over and over again declare it the right time to have a “conversation” on race in America we are reminded of how far we still have to go. Holder’s comments were unpopular because he said something that is true but that is supposed to be said out loud. And it’s these set of racial rules that President Obama has followed since coming into the White House that Holder simply disregards.
It’s a powerful thing to have two of the most powerful men in the country be African American as the levels of incarceration, poverty, premature death among black men are at unacceptable levels. Perhaps Holder is the voice who is able to speak about taboo issues without the full backlash of the reactive right wing blogosphere who pretend that there is no racism in American while in the same breath calling for the deportation of human beings they have deemed to be illegal. Holder is certainly working hard to ensure that black and brown people in low income communities are not blocked from voting in next year’s election because of unfair voter ID laws.
Maybe one day we’ll find out that Attorney General Eric Holder is personifying Obama’s own inner monologue.