In a New York Times piece ostensibly characterizing Eric Holder’s Justice Department tenure as tenacity in the face of partisan beligerence, the US Attorney General gives opponents the equivalent of manna from Heaven: “This is a way to get at the president because of the way I can be identified with him…both due to the nature of our relationship and, you know, the fact that we’re both African-American.”
Amidst the accumulating policy failures of a stimulus that failed to stimulate, Solyndra loans and ’Fast and Furious’ arms trades, the last thing the White House needed was an unforced error from one of its most high profile Cabinet members. Indeed, the comment helps to further the Holder narrative of being oblivious and tin-eared. Recall the 2010 congressional testimony in which he admitted to having not read Arizona’s immigration law before objecting to its contents.
Yet the beatings Holder has taken by Republican opponents have paled in comparison to those suffered by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, or Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke–the latter of whom Governor Rick Perry threatened to “treat pretty ugly” should he ever find himself in Texas. Surely none of those Administration officials believe themselves to be easy targets due to their being African-Americans—with nary an African-American among them, their policy missteps earn derision all on their own.
Aside from another ding in the Attorney General’s credibility, the quote plays right into the hands of the Fox News echo chamber, the audience of which has already been told that Holder had no interest in prosecuting cases of voter intimidation if committed by the New Black Panther Party. Is this really a narrative the White House wants to combat during a reelection fight?
What’s additionally instructive about Holder’s blunder is the way it offers a stark, microcosmic contrast between Obama the candidate and Obama the president; the old axiom of campaigning in poetry and governing in prose. Remember the 2008 meme ‘No Drama Obama’? Those days are far behind us, and we have plenty of high profile blunders to prove it. A failure by Holder is a failure by his boss. Is pointing out such failures implicit racism? Holder should ask Geithner, Chu and Bernanke. What the four share with each other–and the president–is failed policy initiatives, not race. And that’s certainly fair game for the Republican opposition.