This past week, Eric Holder, the nation’s first black Attorney General, got off to a rocky start. What could he be thinking?, I asked myself as I watched the speech on C-Span. As he read his speech without the use of teleprompters or the dramatic flair of his friend, President Obama, Holder fumbled in his attempt to draw upon knowledge of history and instruct his fellow citizens about how to overcome the problem of race in our land. His timing and his delivery made me cringe as I watched his remarks. I knew instantly that Holder’s ineptness would reflect badly on his boss and the entire Obama administration.
Perhaps Holder’s problem began with a subtle misunderstanding of the role of the Attorney General. No, I am not talking about an understanding of the job description. I am talking about having a proper respect for how those greats in the Attorney General office helped change their world. Despite the lackluster performance of several recent AGs, this position has been responsible for setting the tone for both law enforcement and the direction of the nation’s concept of justice. For example, Robert Francis “Bobby” Kennedy served in this post from 1961 to 1964. He worked with his older brother, President John Kennedy, during the Cuban missile crisis and helped establish the legal foundations for the lasting impact of the civil rights movement. Kennedy’s visionary courage concerning the rights of blacks got him assassinated - just as civil rights champions, Dr. King, and Bobby’s brother – J.F.K.
Therefore, I was shocked by Holder’s statement last week in which he made the following statement, “…Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.” Perhaps Holder’s view of the AG function was tainted by a combination of pride (in his own achievements) and personal racial bitterness. I am not qualified to assess the root causes for the flaws in his logic, yet as an African American I cringed when this affluent armchair intellectual called us a nation of cowards.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.