An interesting thing happens to presidents in their second term: they seem to become concerned, almost obsessively so, with their “legacy.” With Friday’s speech, while trying to resuscitate his second term agenda, President Obama offered what will no doubt be his legacy’s throughline: “Trayvon Martin could have been Me.” Barack Obama, the most powerful man in the world, has cast himself, his presidency, his agenda, and his legacy as the victim.
Until this point, Obama left this portrayal to the court jesters. Between the handwringing of the network news and the major newspapers, that mythos — the one of a good man besieged by racially motivated political opponents intent on his destruction — was shoved into the current American zeitgeist like food down the gullet of a Toulouse foie gras goose. This, however, marks a sea change. Now Caesar himself plays the victim.
President Obama wasn’t just cynically fanning the flames of racial tension in this country. The “I am Trayvon” press conference was a much-needed opportunity to save his otherwise crippled second term agenda, which has been gelded by the IRS, NSA, Benghazi, and AP scandals. The New Obama is no longer the patriarch worried for his imaginary son — with “Trayvon Martin could have been Me,” now he is little Trayvon. He is the poor misunderstood young black boy walking home in his hoodie with a pack of Skittles in his hand. His agenda is as innocent as the cherubic face of the 12-year-old Trayvon the media keeps showing us. His opponents, meanwhile, become Zimmerman. A man without a first name who judges, profiles, stalks, and ultimately kills the innocent.
This presidential evolution from Trayvon’s father to Trayvon himself doesn’t just protect the agenda, it sets the stage for the tone of the discussion that will ensue as history looks back on this presidency. By becoming Trayvon, by portraying himself as the victim, Obama has virtually guaranteed that all discussion of his legacy be seen through the prism of his race rather than his accomplishments — or lack thereof. He wants the black community, which is the most affected by the Trayvon verdict, to see him as the young boy gunned down simply because he was black. Obama has guaranteed that real discussion of his legacy among that community becomes all the more difficult.
Over the course of his presidency, Trayvon Obama has had so many chances to be a president for all Americans, and has failed each time. This last press conference provided him the opportunity, once again, to unite rather than divide. The president could have spoken to all Americans. Instead he chose to stoke the fire with a self-serving, divisive statement that turned the most powerful man in the world into a victim.