Gingrich, Santorum try to politicize Obama’s Trayvon statement

Opinion

“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” The safest way for President Barack Obama to acknowledge the role that race played in the killing of Trayvon Martin without saying the words “black” or “racism.” He personalized it, empathizing on the level of parenthood, and hinted at the fear that young black men deal with on a daily basis, and the fear of those who love them.

“All of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how something like this happened” is about as close to saying “we must address racism in this country” as is politically possible for Obama to say without redress. His short statement was as good as it gets.

I was among those who didn’t particularly care to hear the president weigh in on the killing of Trayvon Martin, for which George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old self-appointed neighborhood watch captain that shot him, has still not been arrested. There didn’t seem to be anything to gain, since the president elicits such hatred from certain segments of the country, best known as Republican wingnuts, that pounce on any and every thing he says in order to fabricate a scandal.

WATCH ‘ED SHOW’ COVERAGE OF THE CONSERVATIVE REACTION TO TRAYVON:

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I wasn’t interested in hearing the president’s political opponents weigh in on any remark the he may have made regarding Trayvon by accusing him of race-baiting or polarizing the country, dividing when he should be uniting, or placing the concerns of “special interests” above those of the nation as a whole, dabbling in local law enforcement issues when the economy is still in recovery, or whatever else they may cook up.

And I would hate to see pundits discuss new polling information on how the “Trayvon Martin issue” would affect Obama’s re-election prospects. I didn’t, and still do not, wish to see Trayvon’s 17-year-old life and tragic death become a political talking point.

So when he was asked the question at the end of a press conference introducing Jim Yong Kim as his nominee to the World Bank, I held my breath for a brief moment. I was pleasantly surprised to hear his measured words that recognized the gravity of the situation, but refused to address the legalities and specifics of the case, and opted to empathize with the parents while giving subtle nods to the role race played. Again, it was as good as it gets, and, to my mind, there was little his political opponents could use to turn this into a partisan issue.

Enter Newt Gingrich.

The Republican presidential hopeful and former Speaker of the House chose not to see the president’s empathy, but to take offense to his non-mention-mention of race. “It’s not a question of who that young man looked like,” Gingrich said in a radio interview.

“Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified, no matter what the ethnic background. Is the president suggesting that, if it had been a white who’d been shot, that would be OK, because it wouldn’t look like him? That’s just nonsense.” He also referred the president’s comments as “disgraceful.”

Not to be outdone, former Senator Rick Santorum and closest rival to the presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney weighed in during his own radio interview, saying, “What the president of the United States should do is try to bring people together, not use these types of horrible and tragic individual cases to try to drive a wedge in America,” and claiming the president politicized the events.

This is exactly what I didn’t want to happen, but I suppose was inevitable, given the conservative hatred of Obama, and their irrational ideas surrounding race and racism. Current conservative ideology essentially holds that the only racists are those who choose to mention race at all, even when race is so clearly an issue that the only way for you not to see it is to purposefully ignore it.

And that is exactly what conservatives and Republicans have chosen to do. Except when they don’t, referring to “blah” people or “food stamp” presidents. Race is an issue, they know it, but they want to keep mum about it in explicit terms, preferring to race-bait and dog-whistle to those supporters they would rather not admit to having.

That they would turn the president’s words on the murder of a 17-year-old into an attack point is the true disgrace. Obama very clearly attempted to not politicize the matter, yet to score some points with their base, that’s exactly what Gingrich and Santorum have done.

It should go no further than this. Trayvon’s death should not, cannot, and will not become a talking point or debate strategy. His family deserves justice, not poll numbers.

Follow Mychal Denzel Smith on Twitter at @mychalsmith