President Barack Obama finally had his Bill Clinton moment on Friday.Remember when Clinton uttered the now-famous catch-phrase, “I feel your pain,” when he was challenged by an activist imploring him to be more pro-active in fighting the AIDS epidemic during a presidential campaign speech in March, 1992?Obama essentially copied Clinton’s mantra in his efforts to mollify much emotional anger emanating from many in the black community in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman verdict.The most noteworthy segment of Obama’s straight-from-the-heart Speech of Placation was this: “… We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys. And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?”So, Mr. President, we saw you throw down the gauntlet. And since you brought it up, now what are you going to do? President Lyndon Johnson, during his State of the Union address in 1964, invoked his “War on Poverty” program with these pioneering words: “This administration today here and now declares unconditional war on poverty in America.”All of this was part of Johnson’s seminal “Great Society” initiative that he demanded from Congress. It spawned many of the programs and policies that are now household terms: Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, etc.We saw a real difference in the improvement of American life, from black folk in the ghettoes of urban America to rural white folk in Appalachia. Johnson, simply put, was a game-changer. Because heaven knows, without those programs, things could have been much worse for many Americans.Johnson was the ultimate deal-maker; Obama is the ultimate deal-breaker.Obama knows he can’t possibly go begging Congress for billions of dollars to subsidize even more federal programs to “bolster and reinforce our African-American boys.” He knows Republicans wouldn’t stand for more social programs when many have been cut during times of tight budgets and economic recessions.So what does he do? Obama alluded to a nebulous plan by saying, “I’m not naive about the prospects of some grand, new federal program. I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as president, I’ve got some convening power, and there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front.“And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes, and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African-American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed; I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.”That is long on vagueness and short on specifics. First, Obama scoffs at the idea of another federal program. But how can he effect change without the use of federal funds? Will he initiate a plan to study the ailments of black males and seek solutions? The problem with that, like many other studies, is it likely will lead to nowhere. That means no help, nowhere; that means much rhetoric but little action.Little action often is the result when one’s aim is to appease a particular group during the heat of passion, as this Martin-Zimmerman tragedy has become: a heat of passion following a horrific tragedy.That ultimately means, in any regard, it’s your move, Mr. President.
Gregory Clay is assistant sports editor for McClatchy-Tribune News Service. email@example.com