I traveled most of last week so it was only today that I read and reread attorney general Eric Holder’s Feb. 18 speech delivered at the Department of Justice’s African American History Month Program.
Here’s my first take:
Ten and twenty years from now Holder’s speech will be remembered for his deliberately provocative phrases: “a nation of cowards.”
Provocation can sometimes be good and necessary. But how was it either in this case?
Holder knew calling America “a nation of cowards” would catch the attention of media, the public, and America’s critics and enemies around the world.
“Cowards” is one of Al Qaeda’s most frequently used epithets for Americans.
I can understand why terrorists use it. I can understand why the hate-America crowd revels in it.
But why did the attorney general use it?
Holder suggests “we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history but also to foster a period of dialogue among the races.”
I’m all for that. We need to “dialogue among the races” concerning, for example, what President Obama meant last year when he said his grandmother was “a typical white person.” And what did Ms. Obama mean when she said America was a “downright mean country.”
I hope Holder speaks out and gives us his take on what the Obama's meant. I hope they do, too.
Then others can join in and we'll have some badly needed dialogue on those important questions the Obama's have yet to answer.
I agree with Holder that:
There can, for instance, be very legitimate debate about the question of affirmative action. This debate can, and should, be nuanced, principled and spirited. But the conversation that we now engage in as a nation on this and other racial subjects is too often simplistic and left to those on the extremes who are not hesitant to use these issues to advance nothing more than their own, narrow self interest.But I wish Holder had provided some specificity with those remarks.
Who, for example, are those “on the extremes” who do not hesitate to use affirmative action for their “self-interests?” How does Holder characterize people who say affirmative action is, in most instances where the term is used, nothing more than racial preference and quota practices?
As he drew to a close Holder said:
The names of too many . . . people, these heroes and heroines [who have advanced justice and opportunity for blacks], are lost to us. But the names of others of these people should strike a resonant chord in the historical ear of all in our nation: Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White, Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Charles Drew, Paul Robeson, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Vivian Malone, Rosa Parks, Marion Anderson, Emmit Till.Two things struck me about Holder’s list of people who should “strike a resonant chord in the historical ear of all in our nation.”
These are just some of the people who should be generally recognized and are just some of the people to whom all of us, black and white, owe such a debt of gratitude.
First, Justice Thurgood Marshall was not on Holder’s list.
Granted Holder couldn’t name everyone who merited specific mention on his list. But how could the attorney general of the United States fail to mention our nation’s greatest civil rights lawyer and first African-American Supreme Court justice?
Second, everyone on Holder’s list is a black.
Nowhere in his speech does Holder mention a single white contributor to the advancement of blacks in America and to understanding between the races.
That's a telling omission in a speech the attorney general told us was about dialogue, social amity and full inclusion involving all Americans.
Holder’s omission, while less noticeable, is as telling and troubling as his calling Americans “a nation of cowards.”
More in a few days on Holder's speech.
Thanks to those of you who sent comments and links to others’ reactions to Holder’s speech. I appreciate them.
And thanks to RealClearPolitics for hosting the speech here.