Obama's Missed Opportunity

A conversation with Dave Rubin

A few weeks ago, I appeared as a guest on the Rubin Report, hosted by Dave Rubin. We had wide-ranging discussion that took us from COVID restrictions into some territory that will likely be familiar to regular readers. It was a great conversation, and you can watch the whole thing here on Dave’s YouTube channel.

Below you’ll find a clip and transcript of part of that video. In it, we move from some more personal material into a critique of Democratic (that’s capital D) politics and specifically of Barack Obama’s handling of race. Obama had a unique opportunity to set the country down a different path than we’re currently on concerning race. I believe he missed that opportunity, and I explain why below.

DAVE RUBIN: I unfortunately end up having to ask all of my black guests, or I would rather say “guests who happen to be black,” that are doing something sort of similar to what you were doing. Can you just talk a little bit about the type of treatment you get? Not from some of the good students, but just sort of, you know, from the say antiracist crowd? Because they're not that thrilled with you.

GLENN LOURY: You know, I'm probably the wrong guy to ask. I'm 72 years old. I know it doesn't show, but it's true. Born in 1948. So I'm a senior member of the community. I've been around for a long time. I'm a known quantity. I have the various accolades that I have. I've had a distinguished career as a research economist. I don't think people really tell me what they think or react to me. It may be a certain deference to my position and to my senior status. It may be out of respect for my academic accomplishments. I hold a chair here at Brown, et cetera. I think they may whisper out of my earshot, this or that, but I don't feel the chill.

Now, COVID has had an impact here, because we're not coming face to face. We're meeting through Zoom and Skype and such. And this last year has been a year in which some of my more conservative ideas, especially about race and diversity and equity, have come to a head because of the reckoning about race and the aftermath of George Floyd and all of that. I've written pieces that have gotten a lot of positive play in conservative quarters, which I'm sure some of my colleagues despise. But I'm not seeing them around the lunch table at the faculty club so that they can convey their contempt for me with their glare or their whatever.

So I don't know about the last year. But before that, I would say it was kind of like a gentleman's agreement. Glenn is a curmudgeon. Glenn is Glenn. Yeah, that's where he's coming from. He's not a bad guy. He's all screwed up about this stuff, but that's all right. We'll still invite him to dinner. I don't know what's going to happen once we get back to business as usual. We'll see.

It's kind of a funny idea for a short story. A conservative professor who, because of lockdowns, can feel more emboldened because the colleagues aren't going to sneer at him at the commissary or something.

Somebody ought to be working on that story.

Somebody should be. Do you sense there's anything left? I mean, I get you're not a Democrat. I haven't heard you say you're a Republican, but I get you're not a Democrat.

I'm a registered independent who's playing both sides of the street, so to speak. But I'm not very happy with where the Democrats are right now.

Right. Do you sense, is there anything left there that is in line with the ideas that you believe in? That you think is in line with the ideas of Martin Luther King?

The Democrats are nothing without blacks voting 95%, 90% for their candidates. They would lose control of everything. Biden wouldn't be president today if James Clyburn were not able to corral enough black votes in South Carolina's Democratic primary to get him out of the hole.

So here's what I see. I'm not a professional political scientist, so you can take it for what it's worth. They're buying black votes by waving a bloody shirt of racism. That's what they're doing. They're selling this idea that George Floyd's death was yet one of another of another of another racist state killings of black people. There's open season, as Ben Crump says in the title of his book, on black people. Now, black people be afraid, be afraid, be very afraid. White racists are coming to get you. They're in your police department. They're right around the corner. And we are the only thing between you and a noose around your neck.

That's what they're saying. The Georgia Election Integrity law is not just Jim Crow, it's Jim Eagle. “They want to put you all in chains.” That's a quote from president Joseph Biden. They want to put y'all back in chains. Okay. So if black people—I speak now to African Americans, if you happen to be watching the Rubin Report—if we fall for this, we're fools. If we fall for this, we are fools. We're being led around with a ring through our noses. So they show nothing but contempt for black people. I'm talking about Joseph R. Biden now.

I'm with you. I know my audience is with you. And I think actually, truthfully most of America's with you. We just don't know where the brave voices are. I think that's part of the problem. I mean, you're one of them, but I think that we're living in this bravery deficit right now.

These issues, the racial conflict coming out of slavery, threatened the existence of the republic. 600,000 people in a country of 30 million were slaughtered on the battlefields of the Civil War, the consequence of which was the emancipation of the African slaves. Here we are now 150 years later, and the descendants of those slaves are citizens of the freest, richest, and most powerful republic in the history of the world.

Man, Glenn, you want to run for president? I got it. You're 72. But come on, come on. That's young for a president these days.

Thanks. I appreciate that. That's not the burden I was thinking about taking up right now. I was looking for the beach. I was looking to put my feet up, man.

Fair enough. Fair enough. Well, can you paint a way or do you see a way out of this? I think a lot of people sort of think we're just in this endless descent. We can address the things that you've addressed. We can say, no, you guys are wrong because we have to talk about disparities instead of discrimination. We have to define things properly. But I think a lot of people think, oh, we just can't stop this force.

I don't know how it stops being honest with you. I feel like I'm spitting in the wind, my little humble efforts with John McWhorter. We have a podcast, the Glenn Show, and we talk about these things and whatnot. That's at patreon.com/glennshow. [In the time since this interview originally aired, TGS has moved from Patreon to Substack. -Glenn]

We'll link to it, but I got to get you on Locals. That's a different topic.

Oh, okay. But in any case, man, I think we had a chance with the presidency of Barack Obama to really change the conversation and that he let us down. We can talk about the presidency of Barack Obama. It is many, many things. It's not just this. But on this portfolio—"If I had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon"—he shouldn't have said that. He shouldn't have said, "My friend Henry Gates, the police acted stupidly." We could go through all of these things. He shouldn't have made Al Sharpton—200 times visiting the White House—ambassador to Black America from his administration. He shouldn't have done that.

He should have stood for law and order when Baltimore was burning down, when Ferguson, Missouri was burning down, instead of splitting the difference and saying they have legitimate grievances. Of course they have legitimate grievances, but it doesn't rise to the level of arson and assault on police officers and looting. That's unforgivable. That cannot be tolerated. I don't care what their grievances are. And he should have said so.

He should have turned to Black America, as he tried to do a little bit during the campaign, but he beat a retreat from it, and said, yeah, there's racism, but you know what? We need to pull up our socks. He could have found a better way of saying it. He could've found an Obamaesque way of saying it. We need to stand up straight with our shoulders back, as Jordan Peterson puts it. We need to take care of our kids. We need to get busy. Racism is not the first or the second or the third issue confronting us. He could have said.

He could have shut up some of these people, like Ta-Nehisi Coates. Instead he invites them for cozy talks, et cetera. Shut 'em up by saying, my occupying this office, commander-in-chief of the most powerful military on the planet, the agenda setter for this great republic of 325 million people, gives the lie to your talk about oppressive denial of the integrity of black bodies. He said it in 2004, Barack Obama did. He said, “It's in my very DNA.” He's black and he's white. We all are, metaphorically speaking. There's only one people here, the American people. There's only one people here. For a variety of reasons, President Obama elected—and it's not an easy job, it's a hard job, that's why I don't want it. Thanks anyway, Dave.

I apologize. I apologize.

For a variety of reasons, he elected not to take that one on, and he's the only person who could have taken it on. He's the only person who could have sat it in the White House—you saw what happened when Trump tried to order out the National Guard, or whatever it was he tried to do, and everybody goes ballistic and it's all racist and whatnot. Obama's the only person who could have changed that conversation by putting his racial identity and his civic responsibility on the line, not as a fealty to the black victim narrative, but as an affirmation of the possibilities of the country.

Now it's easy for me to say this, I know. But that's what I see when I look at it in retrospect. An opportunity was missed between 2009 and 2017. And where we are now? I mean, I heard Michelle Obama, the former first lady, say to Gayle King at CBS This Morning the other day that she worried that her daughters, Sasha and Malia, might be set upon by rogue police officers because they're black and they might be mistaken for somebody. And to that I have to say this—I said this on my podcast, I'll say it to you—first of all, it's false. It's false. You've got to get past the Secret Service to get to those kids. She knows it's false.

Secondly, she knows that what she said is untrue. So what is she doing? She's playing you Negroes. She's playing you. She's enacting a trope, a narrative in the service of a political program, which is to keep you on the reservation, afraid that the boogie man racist is gonna come and get your children. She's not worried about her children being harassed on Martha's Vineyard by a cop because they're black.

So instead of pushing against this narrative, which is comforting … It is a comfortable place to be if you're black. I'm a victim. They wouldn't let me get the Nobel Prize because I was black. I'm an economist, I'm a damn good economist. I want the Nobel Prize! I want the Nobel Prize! They wouldn't let me have it 'cause I'm black. That is getting old. But we need our leaders—I'm talking about African American leaders—to point away from that. And they're not doing it.