The lost art of constructively criticizing one’s favorite leaders

I voted for Barack Hussein Obama during both of his historic presidential elections, and I continue to love and respect him as a Black man, family man, and political leader.

Still, as a freelance member of the press throughout his presidency, I was not a “yes” man and whenever I disagreed with Mr. Obama’s policy or personal positions on a matter, I expressed the same clearly and unequivocally in my column spaces for the Tallahassee Democrat and the Capital Outlook, among others.

I often lament that one of the worst aspects of the modern political era is that far too many Americans can neither constructively criticize nor break from leaders of their own political party even when deep down, they know that said leader is wrong on a given issue. It’s as if politics have turned into sporting life, and much like a life-long Washington Football Team fan will rarely compliment a Dallas Cowboys player or coach, over the past four years, most Republicans refused to openly criticize former President Donald Trump even at his worst moments, including the quid pro quo with Ukraine that led to his first impeachment, and his inspiring insurrection via Twitter and during his January 6th faux “Stop the Steal” rally that left more Americans dead than the Siege of Fort Sumter in 1861–and has led to his second impeachment. To be balanced, Democrats did the exact “hear no evil, see no evil” in the late 90s as they rallied around then President Bill Clinton after he perjured himself about having relations with 24-year old Monica Lewinsky.

To that end, on any given day on social media, the level of anger between devotees of the two major political parties has reached a boil, one in which objective “facts” have been replaced by subjective “opinions.” This last point is quite frightening from a political logic standpoint in that we seemingly exist in a period within which some among us would angrily exclaim, “2 + 2, in my opinion, equals 5.”

I do not know whether public political discourse will easily improve or whether the “temperature will be lowered” after four years of Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed and public speeches stirring almost daily anger and bitter conflict among Americans. But as Senate Republicans prepare to acquit Trump for a second time not based on even my own concerns about whether it is legal to hold a trial now that he is no longer president, but because said Republicans fear angering the former president’s large and powerful base, I share a column of mine from 2014 this morning, one in which I strongly criticized my then party leader, Barack Obama. I do so to remind that good governance requires that we, the people, be able to view even the political leaders we admire the most with a level of objectivity–and hold them accountable for their deeds and words.


President Obama’s Insulting Georgia Judicial Nominees 1/14/2014

“As a Black man, President Barack Obama—the first Black president—at times draws my complete ire with respect to lacking deference toward the concerns of his Black constituents. Last month, the POTUS nominated white conservatives Michael Boggs and Mark Cohen to the federal bench in Georgia. Boggs, while a member of the Georgia General Assembly in 2001, voted to keep the Confederate battle flag emblem ( Stars and Bars) as a prominent part of the Georgia State Flag. It must be noted that Georgia, like many of its Southern brethren, placed the Rebel emblem on its flag to protest integration and terrorize Black people following the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education decision.

Cohen, as a lawyer earlier this decade, defended Georgia’s voter identification law—the same law that many civil rights advocates lamented would have a disproportianately detrimental impact on Black voters.

Obama’s appointments have created a rare schism in which the uber loyal Congressional Black Caucus has in recent weeks slammed his appointments. Further, several lions of the Civil Rights Movement, including CBC member and Georgia Rep. John Lewis, Rev. Joseph Lowery and Rev. C.T. Vivian have strongly condemned the president’s judgment in recent weeks.

To be fair, the POTUS has appointed more Blacks to the federal bench than his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, with Obama to date tallying 18.7 percent of his judicial nominees as Black as compared to Bush’s 7.3 percent and Clinton’s16.4 percent. Further, the POTUS has also nominated Georgia State Judge Eleanor Ross, who is Black, to the federal bench. In full disclosure, I have been close personal friends with Judge Ross’s husband, Atlanta Attorney Brian Ross, for nearly 25 years and I personally support her nomination to the federal bench.

But it also must be noted that with the United States Supreme Court having Clarence Thomas as its only Black member, many court watchers were shocked that President Obama did not appoint a Black woman to one of the two seats that he filled with Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, respectively, during his first term.

As to the point of this essay, it is completely reprehensible to think that President Obama, a Black man and Constitutional Law professor, would choose Boggs and Cohen based upon their prior history. Hypothetically, I refuse to believe that if our nation was led by the nation’s first Jewish president, that he or she would appoint to the bench a candidate who supported the Nazi Swastika emblem or another candidate who advocated in court for restrictive covenants that limited the rights for Jews to own property. It would not happen because many Jewish advocacy groups and Jewish voters would rightfully raise Hell until those nominees removed themselves from consideration.

And so it should be in this instance; because President Obama is Black, there is a general hesitancy among many Blacks in this country to question him in the public square out of fear that racists who hate him because of his color may be given more ammunition to attack him in other areas where his advocacy has benefitted Blacks, such as health care and his Black College initiatives. I disagree in that this president owes his very presidency to the overwhelming support he received from Black voters and the overwhelming support that he received from still living legends of the Civil Rights Movement, like Rep. Lewis.

For those unfamiliar with the nominating process, trust when I tell you that the POTUS knew all about Cohen and Boggs’s backgrounds before making the nominations as the vetting process is thorough and intense. Thus, there is no excuse for these selections that essentially disrespect not only the intelligence of those among us who supported the POTUS twice, but invariably disses all of those men and women whose blood, sweat, tears and deaths allowed Blacks to have their rights to vote finally enforced with the advent of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To that end, I beseech all who care to take time to write letters to the POTUS as well as Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) to express your concerns with these two troubling nominations.”

Again, my strong disagreement with President Obama on these matters did not render me a traitor to the Democratic Party or my then President, but my words joined the voices of legends like John Lewis, CT Vivian, and Joe Lowery–all now deceased–each of whom loved Obama, but were troubled by his decision on these judicial nominations. (Nota Bene–Following the outcry, Boggs ultimately was not confirmed for the Federal slot–nixed by Senate Democrats–but was later appointed to Georgia’s Supreme Court; Cohen was confirmed for the Federal judicial post).

Lest we forget that true love encompasses the ability to constructively criticize those we love, admire, or respect, and those who cannot do so for their political leaders are not fully informed, conscientious citizens, but sycophantic pawns with little power to demand accountability.

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