The new approach is at once deeply personal and completely universal, and avidly avoids taking sides in a political fight. His appeal Friday was to the parents. “I can only imagine what these parents are going through,” he said. “And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together — federal, state and local — to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.”
Embedded in his remarks in the Rose Garden was a particular message about being a black parent.
“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Obama said. “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.”
It was rare for Obama to directly broach a subject that has caused him more political problems than benefit, but this was not another Obama race speech or his off-the-cuff comments about the arrest of a black Harvard professor in 2009.
White House officials almost certainly knew Obama would be asked about the Martin shooting soon. The case has stirred immense passion nationwide because of its racial element: Martin, who was unarmed, was killed by George Zimmerman, 28, a Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer, who told police that he shot the black teenager in self-defense. Zimmerman has not been charged in Martin's death. Obama did not deal with the details of the incident, managing to discuss the racially charged incident with deep emotion without saying the words “black” or “race.”
His remarks followed the announcement of his pick to lead the World Bank, not a time when he usually takes questions, but clearly he was ready for one. It was not apparent earlier that Obama would get involved in the controversy. It is the kind of issue that Obama and his aides have bungled in the past. But on Friday, even Republicans running for president followed him into the issue, echoing his call for a full investigation into the case.
White House aides had said repeatedly that they had no comment, calling it a local issue that needed to work its way through the courts. When the Justice Department opened a federal investigation into the case Monday night, senior White House officials kept quiet.
But all the while, according to White House press secretary Jay Carney, Obama was reading news stories about the case. Top Justice Department officials had informed White House aides in recent days that it wasn’t improper for the president to speak out about the ongoing investigation into Martin’s shooting, according to a government official with knowledge of those conversations.