Yesterday President Obama kicked off “My Brother’s Keeper”, a five-year, $200 million effort to lift the country’s black youth. The commentariat has given high marks to his speech at the event, in which he spoke of his own tendency as a young man to get high and otherwise fail to maximize his potential.
Yet what captivated MSNBC’s Touré, a co-host of the afternoon roundtable program “The Cycle,” was the president’s tendency to “dive into the politics of personal responsibility.” Here’s part of what Obama said yesterday: “Part of my message, part of our message in this initiative is: No excuses. We all have a responsibility to help provide you the tools you need. We’ve got to help you knock down the barriers you experience. That’s what we’re here for. But you’ve got responsibilities too.”
That last part — about “responsibilities” — certainly wouldn’t have offended one cable television personality at the White House for the event. Bill O’Reilly, that is. He’s been preaching personal responsibility for ages.
Yet it did offend Touré, who stopped at the president’s invocation of a conservative talking point: “I cringe at that, as if effort and excuses have been the problem. No, it’s been structural racism. The accumulated impact of historic discrimination and the advantages of white privilege and the systems that perpetuate all that. Going into personal responsibility suggests you can make it if you try. And he knows it’s more complex than that. Kids can see the school-to-prison pipeline and the impact of chronic joblessness and the glass ceiling. It’s less a change of attitude that’s needed but a change in real opportunity.”
There was more, but you get the effect. In a strong and passionate and well-written monologue, Touré was taking on the president from the left. Weeks ago, in a strong and passionate and well-written monologue, co-host Krystal Ball took on Hillary Rodham Clinton from the left. Whatever your view of the arguments’ merits, they make for fun cable fare. Perhaps there’s an element of trolling involved, too; don’t be surprised to see Touré’s comments uncharitably recycled on another cable network.