A unifying speech by Obama on the George Floyd situation and its consequences

June 5, 2020 • 9:00 am

In these days when merely seeing Trump on television—before he even speaks—is cringeworthy, it’s salutary to remember how a smart and thoughtful leader looks and speaks. Here are 15 minutes from a town hall meeting Barack Obama hosted two days ago on C-SPAN. (You can see the whole meeting here.) The C-SPAN notes include these:

Former President Barack Obama participated in a virtual town hall on racial justice and police reform hosted by My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation. This was the first time the former president responded publicly to the death of George Floyd while in police custody and the ongoing nationwide protests that have erupted as a result. He said amid tragedy there’s also hope and opportunity for people to act and work for change. He urged cities and police departments to review their use of force policies and make changes

This is an inclusive message that would be unthinkable coming from Trump. The heartening thing is Obama’s optimism stemming from the heavy participation of young people in the recent movements, which, Obama says, “Makes America live up to its highest ideals.” But he pulls no punches, referring to the unwarranted police attacks and public approbation towards innocent black people doing normal things, like birdwatching. He also gives a nod to those police who have been outraged by the same tragedies that motivated the protests. (I see a lot of people saying that all cops are rotten, which isn’t true, and that we should get rid of police departments, which seems bizarre. By all means reform them, as Obama emphasizes, but we surely need some form of law enforcement.)

In the end, Obama asks mayors to read the 2015 President’s Task Force Report on 21st Century Policing and start implementing police reforms.

He finishes by comparing the protests of the Sixties with those happening now, both in terms of the diversity of participants (I’m not sure about that—it depends on the protest), and in the public approbation of the protests themselves (Obama says it’s increased from the Sixties to now, which may be true).

Even if there aren’t a lot of tangibles here—and one doesn’t expect tangibles in a speech meant to demonstrate unity—leadership and empathy, this is a great talk, and should hearten both black and white people alike. What a pity that he was replaced by such a moron!


If you have another six minutes, they’d be well spent listening to this 2004 speech by Obama (and some astute commentators’ analysis) that was the keynote of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.  It’s unifying, eloquent, and thrilling. It’s a bit alarming how much he’s aged in the last 16 years, but that’s what the Presidency does to everyone.

48 thoughts on “A unifying speech by Obama on the George Floyd situation and its consequences

  1. While he’s aged, this speech was from 2004, so 16 years. This was before he became President.

    1. In all fairness, 16 years is probably going to age a fella, even more so when 8 of them are as president.

  2. I have a problem with Obama. Whenever I see him, I begin to cry. Remember when we had a good, competent, kind and thoughtful man as president? I do. And the the Tangerine Wanker rears its ugly face. And I cannot believe it.

    Almost makes me believe in karma. We did not deserve someone as good and decent as Obama so karma gave us Little Donnie the Smallhanded. Or maybe it is Yin and yang. I don’t know.

    1. I was thinking of a similar comment after reading the OP. Not sure I could watch the speeches. Too painful.

  3. The contrast between Obama and Trump in everything one looks for in a leader – eloquence, intelligence, empathy, reason, kindness, the willingness to face facts, the focus on unity and hope- EVERYTHING- could not be more stark. Someone here at WEIT asked the other day how the US could go from a true (if imperfect), leader like Obama to Trump in a single election. It mystifies me.

  4. Given Trump seems to have a pathological need to object to everything Obama does and says, I’ll now expect him to come out with a message about how hope, unity, and inclusivity are horrible rotten ideas.

    1. The Democrats problems is that they are always looking for the next “Obama”. And then they actually found one. So Pete Buttigieg is taken seriously as a Presidential candidate after having served as the mayor of a city of 100,000. And now clamoring for Stacey Abrams, who served in the Georgia legislature, to be veep.

      I think Democrats should stop searching for the next Obama.

      1. I agree. I think the US has its own Polybius’ sequence that plays out in miniature. You get beloved Dem leaders at some points and beloved Republican leaders at some points, and everything in between – a lot of it depends on the moment, not necessarily the people who exist in it (there are always, in theory, some percentage of the population who would make amazing leaders walking among us, after all.) Times of social upheaval often seem to begin with a popular Democrat in charge – Woodrow Wilson in the 20’s, JFK in the 60’s, and then Obama around the time the Occupy movement started – but then the focus shifts to the movements themselves. There wasn’t another Democrat in White House in the 20s, and in the 70s there was Carter who, while he seems like a wonderful individual, Wikipedia tells me people were decidedly “meh” about as a President (before my time). I think the focus was elsewhere at those times.

    2. Why were the leading candidates mostly septuagenarians?

      Even the so-called “Silent Generation” needs its last hurrah (and Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were it). They haven’t put anyone in the Oval Office yet, and have had just two members make it to be major-party nominees — John McCain and Michael Dukakis.

      Compare that to six presidents in a row for the “Greatest Generation,” and four and counting for the Boomers.

      1. Those folks who complain about the indignity of the label “Me” generation at least didn’t have an Orwellian name like “Greatest”.

      2. My mistake, I just counted ’em up and there were seven presidents in a row from the so-called “Greatest Generation” — Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Poppy Bush.

      3. Western culture in the last few years tends to be more looking backwards in some respect than forwards. Desire for less risk-taking, the safe and familiar. Liberals certainly don’t have it as bad as conservatives, but I think we caught some of it too.

    3. “Why were the leading candidates mostly septuagenarians?”

      Seems a constitutional amendment would be a solution to the age problem (to the extent it is a legitimate problem), perhaps including the additional requirements of demonstrating the equivalent of a university degree; some minimum STE(A)M competence; successfully passing the civics test required of all naturalized U.S. citizens; an ability to locate countries on a map with the names of countries on them.

  5. What many people seem to forget is, Obama did not exactly have it all his way during his time as president. The last four years especially, the democrats accomplish very little. The defects in our form of government were right out there for all to see and they have become worse since. I do not fault the speeches that Obama could give but when it comes to politicians watch what they do, not just what they say. What is actually accomplished during a presidency is what counts. Two eight year terms of democratic presidents failed to fix a lot of wrong in this country. Otherwise we would not have the terrible mess we are in today.

    1. To my mind Obama’s one serious failing as POTUS was wasting the entire first 1.5 – 2 years of his administration trying to engage the Republicans. His patience in trying to get them to work with him was a big mistake, and I thought so even at that time. He should have steamrolled right over them. After the DP lost both houses it was too late.

      But, I don’t think job performance is what we are talking about here, at least not directly. I think most here, including the OP, are talking about the character of Obama compared to the character of Trump. Good character is no guarantee against mistakes and poor judgement calls but to my mind good character is a better bet every time.

      I am sick to death of micro-cephalic macho-marinated zero summers championing assholes like Trump because they feel “being able to make the tough call” is of paramount importance. Of course what they really mean by that is “perfectly willing to grind other people under-heel to get what they want.”

      But, yeah, you’re right. Obama made some serious mistakes. Nothing compared to Trump of course. And character wise, well. I’m sure I don’t need to convince you about how big a difference there is between the 2. You’ve made clear many times that your opinion of Trump is at least as low as my opinion of him. And that’s about as low as it gets.

    2. The tragedy of Obama’s presidency is that after the first mid-term election he was unable to get any major transformative legislation passed.

      There was so much euphoria at the time of his election that many Democrats complacently assumed the Republicans wouldn’t succeed in striking back. Obama himself was somewhat guilty of this: the awesome electoral outreach machine he’d used for his election was not offered to Democrat congressman, and the threat of gerrymandering was not taken seriously enough.

      But the midterms also showed that legislative gridlock was almost inevitable during times of extreme partisanship. And that is certainly a defect in the structure of American government.

  6. I couldn’t help thinking, Obama is very much aware that by simply giving a speech in which he demonstrates the essential traits of a leader, he was casting a harsh shadow over the current occupant of the Oval office. How many people will change there vote based on that is uncertain, but at least I’m sure that it solidifies the determination of those of us who be doing the right thing in November.

  7. Police resignations are currently on a massive upswing. It’s not that there are no good people who are cops. It’s just that the institution of policing increasingly makes being a good person and being a cop difficult or impossible to balance. The institution as it presently exists is inherently corrupting. And with more and more “good cops” leaving eventually you will reach a point where every last officer remaining is bad.

    1. It isn’t just individual cops who bear the blame, it is also police culture. Belligerence, blind loyalty and silence over misdeeds by fellow officers are valued characteristics of officers. Police unions have far to much power and there is very little effective civilian oversight. It’s a culture that breeds the kind of cop we see on the streets today. 538.com recently showed the results of a poll of police from 2016 where 70% of them thought they treated blacks fairly and without discrimination. How do you change a culture so deluded?

      We can’t go without a police force, but this police culture must be dismantled. I don’t have any suggestions about how to do it.

      There was a time where one could say with a straight face (as it has never been true) that cops are “officers of the peace”. That phrase is now little more than a sad, desperate joke.

      1. I witnessed a police killing of a black man in 1983 on a NY subway train around noon. Suddenly there was a rush of people away from one end of the car, and I saw a tall policeman, around 25 years old, not in uniform but wearing a black leather jacked, who stood bowed over his victim: a small, less than 5 ft black man with white hair, making him probably 80 years old. The policeman had a small revolver in one hand, while with the other hand he was frantically searching the clothes of the black man, who was lying in a puddle of blood and vomit. I assume he was looking for a weapon. I hadn’t heard the shot, NY subway cars were then extremely noisy. The train stopped and we were ordered off the train by subway personnel. The next morning I read in the NY Post at a newsstand that the policeman had shot the man because he “tried to rob him.”

          1. No, I didn’t see the shooting itself, just the result. Subway personnel appeared on the scene, and I can imagine that they would have reported what they saw to the authorities and the subway administration.

            1. Sounds horrific. Who knows about the subway authorities. They are pretty subservient to the police. Perhaps it is not too late to get this case reopened. There is no statute of limitations on murder. I wish I were younger. And a lawyer.

    2. That means there will be a period of rebuilding. That means they can employ more cops of color and be selective in who they hire.

      1. It would be better if the bad cops were leaving. That may happen once Citizens Review Boards with real power are put in place.

  8. … the keynote of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. It’s unifying, eloquent, and thrilling.

    That was the nation’s introduction to Barack (or at least for the nation outside Illinois), and you accurately describe my feelings as I watched it. (I knew a bit about Obama before that since my brother lives in Chicago and had given me a heads up early on to keep an eye on this really sharp young black fella).

    Turns out, though, all Barry’s pretty talk about “one America” was Pollyannaish. No sooner was he elected in 2008 than Rich Mitch McConnell and his band of GOP congressional cohorts met in a backroom in the Capitol to plot their primary goal — indeed, their only goal — of doing everything in their power to ensure Obama would be a one-term president.

    Every time Barry extended an open hand, they slapped it away. Even though Republicans now hypocritically claim the mantle of champions of pre-existing condition health-care coverage, try as he might, Obama couldn’t muster so much as a single Republican vote in support of the Affordable Care Act. And they fought him tooth and nail and everything else, too, no matter how reasonable the proposal.

    You’re right about Barrack having aged, and the toll the presidency takes on the men who’ve held it. But I gotta say former FLOTUS Michelle doesn’t look to have aged a day. Maybe there’s a portrait of her showing all the wear’n’tear locked away in the basement bunker — the one Trump runs to hide in as soon as protesters get anywhere near the White House.

    1. And isn’t he now building a new fence around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Maybe its an attempt to retain a few more staff, as he’s got through them at an alarming rate since taking up occupancy…!

    2. In another time, plenty of Republicans voted for the Norris-LaGuardia Act, the Social Security Act, and the Wagner (National Labor Relations) Act. Somewhat later, plenty of them voted for the civil rights legislation in the 1960s. There were even members of an exotic but not unknown species called liberal Republicans, until the last of them (Jeffords of Vermont) went extinct. Yet, as you say, not one Repub voted for the Affordable Care Act. And in 2017, only a handful of Senate Repubs saved the ACA by a hair from repeal.

      I wonder what basic social change underlies the GOP’s change in this century, leading to its present state. All that occurs to me is:
      (1) the southward shift of the party’s center of gravity, illustrated first by Gingrich and now by McConnell; (2) the increasing power of big money in politics; and (3) (maybe related to the first two points) hyper-concentration of wealth in the US, a steady trend.

      1. Changes in this century have just been the logical extension of changes that began long before, particularly in 1964 with the passage of Civil Rights Legislation. Ever since the Republican Party has relied more and more on support from racists, xenophobes, and fundamentalist Christians. Big money, IMO, played a role to the extent that right wing billionaire types have funded the social movements that undergird the Republicans…. Tea Party, etc. They’ve paid for the right wing talk radio and Faux News infrastructure.

        1. When you describe the GOP thusly, it sounds like their constituents are an amalgam of nefarious ghouls. A rogues gallery of haters, low information rubes, and the avaricious. I can’t understand why any decent human being would want to be associated with them let alone vote for them.

  9. It’s the first time I’ve seen Obama’s 2004 DNC speech in full – great stuff (as was his response to the George Floyd protests also posted above). see

    I see Trump’s own mention of Floyd today was along the lines of George looking down from heaven to congratulate the Toddler-in-Chief on the latest unemployment figures. What the actual f*ck?!

    1. Oops, posted that before I meant to. I was going to add that Boris Johnson was chosen as leader by the Conservatives because they fell for the myth that he was some sort of great communicator who could reach people other Tories couldn’t. His appearances lately have shown how foolish that was – he can barely start a sentence and then successfully navigate his way to its end. Throwing in the odd (and they usually are!) classical allusion and some Latin mumbo jumbo might have worked in his chat show appearances, but fail to cut the mustard on the national and world stages when addressing serious issues.

      1. Yes, his pitiful inability to communicate and reach people explains the crushing defeat his party suffered in the December 2019 General Election.

        1. If you’re saying that a victory guarantees that the guy is good, you are sorely deluded. All it shows is that you can fool a lot of the people some of the time. I have to say this, but your apparent approbation for this narcissistic moron casts doubt on either your character, your rationality, or both.

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