Commentary: When stand by your man is no longer enough any more
SAN DIEGO -- It's tough to decide what is more painful to watch: the oppressive and bloody crackdown against protesters in Tehran or the pathetic attempts by Obama supporters here in the United States, including some in the media, to justify the president's timid and feckless response to the crisis.
Barack Obama's answers at his news conference on Tuesday, while a bit more forceful in supporting the protesters, still indicated the administration is maintaining its hands-off approach.
Americans have suffered through one lame justification after another for why Obama was right not to "meddle" after the disputed Iranian election. Obama's defenders say Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could use the United States as a foil. (Ahmadinejad has done this already, so what's the point of staying quiet?) Or, supporters contend, because Washington probably wouldn't make much of a difference anyway. (Then why is the regime warning the U.S. about interfering in an internal matter?) Or because the protesters might not even want Obama's help. (Most of the protesters are young, the same demographic that treats Obama like a rock star, and so, I suspect, they would welcome his support.) Or because Ahmadinejad's top rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, might not be any easier for the United States to deal with. (This was a decision for the Iranian people to make, and hundreds of thousands charge that they were cheated out of the chance to decide.)
What's wrong with this picture? For many liberals, there are no more sacred principles than free speech and the right to challenge one's government. So you would think they'd naturally be on the side of the Iranian protesters.
Likewise, since many of the protesters are Iranian women trying to break free from the regime's brutal oppression, wouldn't you expect to hear something from the National Organization for Women? Instead, about the only people in the United States speaking up for Iranian women are conservatives.
The left is too busy standing by Obama. I wondered what they would say if Obama changed his tune. Sure enough, just a few days ago, when Obama seemed to meddle -- er, call on the Iranian government to "stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people," his defenders fell in line and insisted he was doing the right thing. In a written statement, Obama said, "The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights."
It was a good message, although late in coming. So late that, by the time it arrived, the Iranian government had raised the stakes by spilling more blood. So far, Iranian authorities say, at least 17 people have died as a result of post-election violence. Besides, Obama's statement came only after Congress had passed -- with unanimous support from Democrats -- a resolution condemning the crackdown.
Also, how ironic and disappointing that Obama -- who was described during the presidential campaign as "post-racial" because he came of age after the civil rights movement -- apparently doesn't understand the significance of some of the defining moments of that era. Like when President John Kennedy -- having asked the nations of the world in his inaugural address to "heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah -- to 'undo the heavy burdens, and (to) let the oppressed go free" -- was criticized for being too slow to respond to televised images of civil rights marchers being attacked by police dogs and fire hoses. Or when police beat protesters on the bridge in Selma, Ala., as they fought for the same thing that Iranians want now -- the right to vote for their own government.
In his remarks on Iran, Obama quoted Martin Luther King Jr. How appropriate. In the days ahead, the president should recall what King wrote in April 1963 in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail." In it, King confessed his disappointment with the moderate "who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice." This is one area where Obama's middle-of-the-road tendencies fail him.
The president needs to clearly and unequivocally say to the Iranian people that the United States stands with them and will hold the Iranian government accountable for its repressive acts.
Unlike many of Obama's critics on the right, I still think he can be a good leader. But, he's not off to a good start with his inadequate response to the bloodshed in Iran.
Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.