Julius Lester: Gazette columnist went out of his way to disparage Obama

  • U.S. President Barack Obama gestures during a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, April 21, 2016. Obama met with Saudi King Salman and attended a meeting of Gulf Arab heads of state of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries during his two-day visit to the kingdom. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

Published: 4/22/2016 8:32:18 AM


A sad reality of the present political climate is the conservative belief that whatever President Obama does or doesn’t do is wrong. Jay Fleitman’s Gazette column of April 5 goes farther and maintains that the president lacks character. However, to make this assertion, Fleitman not only distorts the historical record but omits relevant information.

WHAT THE PRESIDENT DID #1: In the aftermath of the terrorist bombings in Brussels, he attended a baseball game in Cuba, and he and the First Lady “were whisked around the dance floor by tango instructors at a swell party in Argentina.” These actions, according to Fleitman, “were unseemly,” giving the impression that the “leader of the free world will not allow a terrorist attack on our friends to distract him from his recreation.”

WHAT WAS OMITTED: Yes, the president attended a baseball game in Cuba, but after extending American sympathy and support to the Belgian president. The game was between the Cuban National team and the Tampa Bay Rays, an important symbol in these early stages of a new relationship between the two countries. And the president left long before the game was over.

Yes, the president danced the tango in Argentina but not at “a swell party.” It was a state dinner hosted by the Argentinian president.

On the film I saw Obama shake his head when invited to dance and saw how uncomfortable he was during the short lesson. But to refuse would have risked insulting the Argentinian president and people.

However, if he had refused, I have no doubt that Fox News would have gleefully reported that the president had damaged relations with an important South American ally.

WHAT THE PRESIDENT DID #2: In 2014 American James Foley was beheaded by ISIS. The president gave a press conference denouncing the execution, and then went to play golf. According to Fleitman, this is another example of Obama’s “history of decisions … which betrays blindness to the impact of events that occur outside his personal interests.”

WHAT WAS OMITTED: After his press conference and after talking with Foley’s family, “where it was hard for me to hold back tears listening to the pain that they were going through,” the president did go play golf. He was on vacation, and there was nothing more he could do regarding Foley. But managing the “theater” of being president “is not something that always comes naturally to me.” How refreshing if conservatives would acknowledge so candidly their shortcomings.

WHAT THE PRESIDENT DID #3: On the night of the Benghazi attack in 2012, according to Fleitman, the president was “preparing for a political fundraiser in Las Vegas the next day.”

WHAT WAS OMITTED: Fleitman presents no evidence the president was preparing for a fundraiser that night. Why would he need to prepare for the kind of event at which he’d appeared innumerable times over the years? According to news reports, the president was in the White House that night fully informed and in consultation with the appropriate national security people. He flew to Las Vegas the following day for the campaign fundraiser (2012 was an election year). Air Force One has all the technology needed for him to stay informed and in communication with anyone. in the world.

WHAT THE PRESIDENT DIDN’T DO THAT WAS WRONG #1: He did not attend the funerals of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. According to Fleitman, Obama’s absence “sent messages of disregard to two of our closest allies.”

WHAT WAS OMITTED: President Obama did not attend either funeral. Instead, the official U.S. delegation to Thatcher’s funeral was composed of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and former secretaries of state James Baker and George Shultz, all prominent Republicans who had worked with Thatcher. Vice President Biden attended Sharon’s funeral and was one of those to eulogize him.

WHAT THE PRESIDENT DIDN’T DO THAT WAS WRONG #2: He did not attend the funerals of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

WHAT WAS OMITTED: The day before Scalia’s funeral, President and Mrs. Obama went to the Supreme Court where Scalia’s body lay in state, paid their respects and spent time with the justice’s family. Vice President Biden and Mrs. Biden attended the funeral. Between 1946-2016, seven sitting Supreme Court Justices have died. Presidents attended three of the seven funerals.

It is customary for First Ladies to attend the funerals of former First Ladies. Mrs. Obama attended Nancy Reagan’s. President Reagan did not attend the funeral of former First Lady Bess Truman; Nancy Reagan did. President George W. Bush did not attend Lady Bird Johnson’s funeral; Laura Bush did.

From this litany of flawed and inaccurate information, Fleitman concludes that the president is unable to understand that his actions, “or lack of them,” have an impact on others.

This may indicate “a flaw of character,” but Fleitman believes “he may just not care.” However, Fleitman can reach this conclusion only by distorting and omitting information.

Conservatives have responded to the majority of voters who chose Obama as our president by opposing everything he has attempted to do and refusing to work with him. In doing so, they disrespect the will of the majority and undermine the democratic system.

The president has been relentlessly demonized by people who have nothing to offer except enmity, which they do so with obscene eagerness.

Such lack of respect for the personhood of the man whom the majority of Americans chose to lead us shows contempt for democracy and the will of the majority.

Contempt for those with whom we disagree leads to a broken and angry nation incapable of discourse, especially when conservatives omit and distort information to make the president’s actions appear to be what they were not.

But that’s the problem. As a nation, we can no longer agree on what the facts are about anything.

This means we are in deeper peril than we may care to know.

Julius Lester is a writer and photographer and professor emeritus in the Department of Judaic Studies at the University of Massachusetts. He lives in Belchertown.

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