Tavis Smiley Says Obama Leads From Behind on Race

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
July 21 2013 2:19 PM

Tavis Smiley Blasts Obama Speech: “You Can’t Lead From Behind” on Race

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

While President Obama has been widely praised by the media and Washington insiders for his deeply personal speech about Trayvon Martin Friday, Tavis Smiley said on NBC Sunday that it was too little, too late. It wasn’t the first time the PBS host blasted Obama for his speech. On Friday, Smiley took to Twitter to criticize the president’s “weak as pre-sweetened Kool-Aid” speech, noting it took Obama “almost a week to show up and express mild outrage.” On Sunday, Smiley doubled down on that criticism saying that “this town has been spinning a story that’s not altogether true.”

The media narrative now is that Obama walked to the podium for an unscripted address because he felt he needed to say something. But the truth is that “he was pushed to the podium,” Smiley said. “A week of protests outside the White House, pressure building on him inside the White House, pushed him to that podium.” Smiley noted he did“appreciate and applaud the fact that the president did finally show up.” But “the bottom line is, this is not Libya. This is America. On this issue, you cannot lead from behind. What’s lacking in this moment is moral leadership.”

Advertisement

Harvard professor Charles Ogletree disagreed with Smiley, saying that the President has “been talking about race and doing things for race for a long time, and the reality is that … he wasn't pushed to the podium, he walked to the podium.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.