Ray Rice: Did the White House need to weigh in?

Some argue it’s a teaching moment, and the president needs to help steer the nation. Others say it’s an incident that the president has no authority over and should not attempt to influence.

Evan Vucci/AP
White House press secretary Josh Earnest gestures during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Sept. 8, 2014.

Both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have spoken out this week concerning the most viral news of the moment: the video of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée with one punch.

On Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest discussed with Mr. Obama the Ravens’ decision to release Mr. Rice, and the National Football League’s move to suspend the player indefinitely.

Mr. Earnest then issued a statement which said in part: “Hitting a woman is not something a real man does, and that’s true whether or not an act of violence happens in the public eye, or far too often, behind closed doors. Stopping domestic violence is something that’s bigger than football – and all of us have a responsibility to put a stop to it.”

Then on Tuesday, Mr. Biden spoke more personally and emotionally about the video, taken by a security camera inside an elevator at an Atlantic City casino. In a discussion with NBC’s Tamron Hall that aired on the “Today” show, he said the tape was “brutal” and that the NFL and the Ravens “did the right thing” by putting the Rice’s career on hold.

Biden segued from the Rice incident to the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, which he’s marking today with a speech. Biden helped draft the bill as a senator.

The vice president said US society too often blames the woman for domestic assaults – and that “domestic” is probably the wrong word for this sort of violence, since it softens its character, as if one is talking about a domestic cat.

“It is the most vicious form of violence there is, because not only the physical scars . . . are left, the psychological scars . . . are left,” said Biden.

Did the White House have a responsibility to say something about the Rice video violence? That’s a question that’s being hotly debated on social media at the moment. Some argue it’s a teaching moment, and the president needs to help steer the nation. Others say it’s an incident that the president has no authority over and should not attempt to influence.

Some administration critics jumped in early to complain that Obama wasn’t leading in response to the video’s release on the celebrity news site TMZ.

“I wanna know where is the President on this one?” said Fox News host Andrea Tantaros on Monday before the White House issued Earnest’s statement.

But that was not a universal response from the political right. Others bemoaned the administration’s practice of offering statements at times of national outrage over particular incidents that shoot into the social media stratosphere.

“Get what Andrea’s saying, but I long for a world where we don’t ask the president to comment on every [darn] thing,” tweeted conservative blogger and editor Mary Katherine Ham in response to Ms. Tantaros’ question.

That’s possibly a world we will never live in. As Biden showed with his “gates of hell” statement, expressing outrage at the beheading of American journalists by Islamic State terrorists, part of the job of a White House is to express emotion that reflects the national mood. The president (and by extension the VP) is the nation’s leader, its sheriff, its consoler, all in one.

Meanwhile, a sub-theme in Washington at the moment deals with another Rice: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and whether she might be a good choice to lead the NFL if current commissioner Roger Goodell loses his job due to fallout from the Rice controversy.

Ms. Rice is an avid football fan and has joked in the past that NFL commissioner might be her dream job.

“Time for the former secretary of state with an intense love of the game to step in and save the NFL,” writes Washington Post blogger Jonathan Capehart today.

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