Skip to main content

Obama's troubles not related to race

By Alex Castellanos, CNN Contributor
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Fri May 17, 2013
Officials in the Obama administration's Internal Revenue Service came under fire after revelations that workers in its Cincinnati office targeted for extra scrutiny tea party and conservative groups applying for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. Officials in the Obama administration's Internal Revenue Service came under fire after revelations that workers in its Cincinnati office targeted for extra scrutiny tea party and conservative groups applying for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status.
HIDE CAPTION
IRS targeting | 2013
Benghazi | 2012
Iraq War | 2003
CIA/Plame leak | 2003
Monica Lewinsky | 1998
Iran/Contra pardons | 1992
Iran-Contra | 1986
Iran hostage crisis | 1979
Watergate pardons | 1974
Watergate | 1974
Agnew resigns | 1973
Pentagon Papers | 1971
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alex Castellanos says the promise of Obama's election as president has evaporated
  • He says the scandals, controversies reflect a sprawling government that is out of control
  • Castellanos: Some defenders detect an element of race in president's troubles
  • He says problem is "top-down, factory style government" that can't manage today's complexities

Editor's note: Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist, is the founder of NewRepublican.org. Follow him on Twitter: @alexcast.

(CNN) -- The images still inspire. Children sitting on their parents' shoulders amid a sea of American flags, fluttering on a cool Chicago night. A young black woman running to get as close as possible to the stage.

On November 4, 2008, Grant Park absorbed the world's focus: Barack Obama was elected president of the United States.

His victory speech stopped the Earth from spinning, if only for an evening, and drew the world's attention to an America where anything was again possible. Obama's victory energized a pulsing crowd of a hundred-thousand, their dream deferred no longer. Journalist Lois Wille called it "a great big huge happy evening" that would perhaps "wipe the memory" of a more divided America away.

Alex Castellanos
Alex Castellanos

Still, the podium was wrapped in bulletproof glass. Chicago charged all its 13,500 police officers with protecting America's great hope. It sent firefighters home wearing their uniforms so they would be ready to respond. We were not sure the promise and possibility of that moment was shared by every American. Yet that clear night, we celebrated the peaceful transition of power and the dawn of a different day.

This is a good country, full of good and great people, dedicated to an extraordinary American promise, our commitment to equal opportunity for everyone. That evening, even the most hardened partisan hearts could feel it. Our country had taken a step forward in racial relations, a big step, something that spoke of what our nation might yet become. A good nation had become an even better one, where the scars of some old wounds had healed and the pain of intense divisions, though not forgotten, had receded farther into memory.

Now the world is stopped no longer. How did we get from that America to this?

Benghazi. The IRS. AP phone records. The failures for which Barack Obama will be remembered are not just those of one man or one administration. They are the failures of an old idea, that big, old, dumb, top-down, factory style government can manage the complexities of modern times. The institutions of the past had their day but can't keep up with the hyper-connected, adaptive society we see emerging.

The attorney general says his department's secret acquisition of reporters' phone records is a "matter about which I know nothing."

The then-secretary of state testifies she didn't know about and never reviewed specific security requests from those under her care in Benghazi. Our president learns about "outrageous" acts admitted by the IRS under his watch from the news media. These days, everyone takes responsibility but no one is actually responsible.

Taxing day for the IRS
President Obama's bad week

David Axelrod explained it. "Part of being president is there's so much beneath you that you can't know because the government is so vast," he told MSNBC.

Exactly. So making it bigger and more expansive can only amplify its failures. This is the best Washington can do, not the worst.

However, older industrial-age government is what President Obama insists upon. His administration still wants to control health care, retirement, the economy and almost everything else top-down, politically and artificially from distant palaces of marble. They want to run America from a bureaucracy so vast, its actions can't be known, even by those responsible for them.

Yet the failure of Barack Obama's old ideas about governing may not be the most disappointing element of his legacy.

Unable to accept the constant and consistent failure of "progressive government," some of the president's defenders have already been reduced to saying that the attacks on Obama are unjust, launched against him, not on their merits, but because of his race.

Chris Matthews of MSNBC could find no better way to rationalize the loss of his well known "tingle" than to explain that the country that just elected Obama a second time is inimical to his color. Matthews explained the dimming of Obama's halo like this:

"The problem is there are people in this country ... who want this president to have an asterisk next to his name in the history books. ... They can't stand the idea that he's president and a piece of it is racism." Matthews continued, "It is the sense that the white race must rule. That's what racism is. And they can't stand the idea that a man who is not white is president. That is real. That sense of racial superiority and rule is in the hearts of some people in this country, not all conservatives, not even all right wingers. ... And a big part of it is bought into by people like John Boehner."

Back we go to the day when old wounds were open and divisions among Americans were fresh.

No, Mr. Matthews, racism is not the problem here. This president can and is being judged on the measure of his actions. He is being judged on the content of his character, not the color of his skin.

We've reached a good place in America. We have our first black president. Have we reached the place where we can have our first bad black one?

Chris Matthews' hysteria is evidence we are not there yet.

These next few months, Republicans, Democrats and the news media must conduct themselves better than this.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alex Castellanos.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 7:05 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT