Kathryn Lopez

Eric Holder, the new U.S. attorney general, says we're cowards. He's right, but his reasons are all wrong.

In a recent speech marking Black History Month, Holder said, "Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial."

Holder really should start listening more. We gab about race all the time -- mostly debating supposed controversies ginned up by self-appointed "civil-rights leaders" such as Al Sharpton. I stopped taking Sharpton seriously somewhere between him refusing to apologize for his role in the Tawana Brawley hoax and the deaths at Freddy's Fashion Mart. We'd be better off if everyone followed my lead on that point.

As it happens, Holder's speech came a day after I sat in front of a young black man who liberally peppered a 15-minute phone conversation with the n-word. Five minutes into the young man's phone call, a slightly older black man stopped his own phone conversation, walked over and told the young man, gently and respectfully, that he should cease using foul language. The younger man was chastened, and he changed his tone (for a bit anyway). Pundits and attorney generals can -- and do, and will -- talk endlessly about race; guys on the commute home, the words they use and the moves they make are the game-changers.

At some point, Americans are going to want something other than talk from this administration.

Holder's speech could be forgettable if it weren't such a wasted opportunity. True, courage is needed, but race isn't the elephant in the room that we're refusing to discuss. The issue that makes cowards of us all is this war we're in, and it's a subject that we need to be honest about, for ourselves and for the people fighting in it. Headlines have gone from calling the conflict "Bush's War" to "Obama's War," but altering the title doesn't change the fact that we're all missing the point.

Recently, not far from where a Continental jet plunged earthward in upstate New York, a Muslim owner of a TV station, who did public-relations work for Islam, allegedly killed his wife in what looks to be an "honor killing." What does this have to do with our cowardice and the war? Everything.

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.