Former Top NYT Editor Promotes Notion That Obama's a Political Jackie Robinson

July 31st, 2013 1:47 PM

As Brent Bozell hinted, The New York Times sees the president through sympathetic eyes as a political Jackie Robinson. In his latest column "Profiling Obama," former Times executive editor Bill Keller defends Obama against critics on the right and on the left who think Obama is either too black or not black enough.

Keller is gentle with liberals who are "disappointed that Obama has not made it his special mission to call out the racism that still festers in American society." But anti-Obama conservatives are deranged:

The former group speaks mostly in dog-whistle innuendo and focuses on proxy issues to emphasize Obama’s ostensible otherness: his birth certificate, his supposed adherence to “black liberation theology” (presumably before he converted to Islam), his “Kenyan, anticolonial” worldview. Jonathan Alter’s recent book on Obama’s presidency sums up these notions as symptoms of “Obama Derangement Syndrome” — a disorder whose subtext is more often than not: he’s too black.

This is the Jackie Robinson passage, where Keller absolves Obama of ever having to speak on race (even though he loves his "emotional warmth and empathy" on the subject):

President Obama has an economy to heal, a foreign policy to run, a daunting agenda blockaded by an intransigent opposition. Randall Kennedy, another Harvard law professor who has studied Obama and criticized him for a lack of audacity, says frustration should be tempered by realism.

My view of Obama is as a Jackie Robinson figure,” Kennedy told me. “Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier and encounters all sorts of denigration, people spitting on him, and because he was a pioneer he had to be above it all. ... People expect Obama now to all of a sudden jump into this totally messy issue of race and the administration of criminal justice? It’s completely implausible. To do it would require a major investment of political capital.”

And, come to think of it, why is that his special responsibility anyway?

“There’s sort of a persistent misperception that talking about race is black folk’s burden,” said Benjamin Jealous, president of the N.A.A.C.P., when I asked him about Obama’s obligation. “Ultimately, only men can end sexism, and only white people can end racism.”

Wouldn’t you like to hear John Boehner or Mitch McConnell or Chris Christie or Rick Perry own up as candidly as the president has to the corrosive vestiges of racism in our society? Now that might be an occasion to turn cartwheels. (Italics his.)