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Opinion

Our reactionary leaders: Tied down with petty concerns and paralyzed by real crises

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Barack Obama,Missouri,Race and Diversity,Jay Nixon,Law Enforcement,Becket Adams,Ferguson

President Obama surprised the nation Thursday afternoon by showing up on his way to the golf course to deliver a statement on the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American man who was shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and the increasingly volatile protests that the young man's death has inspired.

“I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson, and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened. There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred. There are going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward. That’s part of our democracy,” the president said.

If not to calm nerves and help mediate issues involving the people and the law, then what good are our elected officials?

“[N]ow is the time for healing. Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson. Now is the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done,” he added.

Obama's remarks were preceded by a statement from Gov. Jay Nixon, D-Mo., who also called for calm and restraint after days of passive silence on the issue.

“If people got things to say, they’ll say them, and if people from the news media want to cover stuff and take pictures of things, they ought to do it. We live in a free country,” Nixon said Thursday. “That voice needs to be heard, and we want to help make sure that it is heard. It doesn’t much matter to me how respectful it is, it’s just got to be safe.”

Now, although it’s admirable that both Obama and Nixon finally tried to calm the residents of Ferguson, their tardiness on the topic represents a bigger problem with our nation’s leaders. It seems that when they're not too busy micromanaging the lives of private citizens, many of our elected officials are wholly incapable of responding to crises in a professional, timely and meaningful manner. Not all of them, mind you, but many.

This is one of the many problems of an oversized and bloated government: It revels in the petty, focusing on the menial and inconsequential, while it grows too large to face head-on the very real and very dangerous issues facing the citizenry.

And it appears in the situation of Ferguson that both state and federal officials are guilty of neglect.

Remember: We are now entering into the second week of a town being torn apart over the shooting death of a reportedly unarmed 18-year-old -- and the president and Missouri’s governor have just now decided to make their presence known.

Yes, there’s always the question, “What would you have them do?” And this is an excellent question. Calmly assessing the situation, weighing the pros and cons of a given crisis before offering comment, is the mark of prudent and wise leadership.

However, in a situation where heavily armed law enforcement officials have been deployed to face off with American citizens, where the people are begging for their elected officials to listen to them, this hands-off approach, this silence from our leaders, is unacceptable. At the very least, they can offer a comment or some sort of effort to help alleviate tensions.

If not to calm nerves and help mediate issues involving the people and the law, then what good are our elected officials? Are they merely glorified tax collectors (because they’re really good at that)? Our elected leaders are entrusted with maintaining the peace in the communities that entrusted them with power. If these leaders find this task uninteresting, then perhaps they should step down and make way for someone who takes it a bit more seriously.

These Johnny-come-lately responses are dismaying, signaling that many of our elected officials are more reactionary than action-oriented, opting to play it safe, forcing a halfhearted remark only because polling data tells them they can’t put it off any longer.

America deserves better than this. The people of Ferguson deserve better than this. Michael Brown’s family deserves better than this.

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