Should President Obama go to Ferguson?

The events in Ferguson could be an opportunity for President Obama to make a personal attempt to heal the nation's racial divide. But it’s also possible he would just get in the way.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
President Obama speaks to the news media in the briefing room of the White House on Monday, after the Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Should President Obama go to Ferguson, Mo.? Notably, Mr. Obama did not rule out that possibility on Monday night when he appeared in the White House press room to urge calm in the wake of the decision by a grand jury to not indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.

“Let’s take a look and see how things are going,” Obama said when asked whether his presence might make a difference. He pointed out that Attorney General Eric Holder has already made a number of visits to the area.

Obama’s going to Chicago Tuesday to try to bolster support for his immigration actions, so he’ll already be in the region. Would his presence help things cool down? Or would it inflame the situation?

Some pundits were vehement on Tuesday that the president needs to seize this opportunity for a personal attempt at healing the nation’s continued racial divide. As the son of a black father and a white mother, he’s uniquely positioned to speak to this enduring schism of American life, writes National Journal’s veteran analyst Ron Fournier.

Obama should reemphasize the point that the nation’s rule of law needs to be respected, according to Mr. Fournier. Then, he could remind whites that the nation’s African-American communities are bedeviled by real problems, not imaginary ones. He could remind blacks that the United States is not static and that progress has been made on racial issues.

“Obama should go to Ferguson because he is uniquely skilled and situated to this time. After failing miserably to unite the reds and blues of U.S. politics, Obama can still bring calm and understanding to the racial shades of America – the whites and blacks and browns, etc.,” Fournier writes.

In addition, the circumstances surrounding Mr. Brown’s death are more complex than those surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teen killed by neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman in 2012. That makes it even more important and urgent that a president put them in the proper context for the nation, writes Brian Beutler in The New Republic.

Unlike the Martin case, the Brown shooting involves a cop. It raises questions of the racial disparity between Ferguson’s largely white police force and a largely black population. It points out the difficulties of establishing exactly what happened in a moment filled with fear and anger for all involved.

“This is Obama’s first opportunity ... to use the bully pulpit to steer the national agenda in a positive direction since the slaughter at Newtown, Connecticut, and it’s the first time since he became a national figure that he’ll be able to address a racially charged issue without an election in his future to deter him,” Mr. Beutler writes.

But it’s also possible the president would just get in the way. Not everyone believes in the power of presidential rhetoric.

“Is there a term for this passion for speeches – this pundit-class faith that it is inspiring words from a paternal figure that drive the engine of social change?” writes Jesse Walker at Reason.com.

The split-screen image on many news channels Monday night showed Obama speaking from the White House on one side and violent protests in Ferguson on the other. The words didn’t seem to be getting through to those burning Missouri businesses, Mr. Walker points out.

“This is the news, not ‘The West Wing.' Words are cheap,” he writes.

Not everyone thought Obama’s words were all about calm. Some on the right saw them as an incitement.

In essence, Obama was saying that the normal investigative process was followed in Ferguson, but it’s understandable that some Americans are still angry about the result, writes Jazz Shaw at right-leaning Hot Air.

In saying that a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color, as the president did, he’s validating a violent response, implying that the lack of an indictment was clearly an act of racism, according to Mr. Shaw.

“That speech was a thinly veiled call to action, not to improve the nation, but to reinforce the idea that the legal system is not be trusted,” writes the Hot Air correspondent.

On Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) ordered additional National Guard forces to Ferguson to protect the police station, which has been the focus of protests. With protests planned outside the courthouse in nearby Clayton, the area remained on edge after a night in which at least a dozen buildings burned.

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