The Perfect Speech for an Imperfect Union

Obama should have stuck to his initial thoughts on the Zimmerman verdict. But he chose his words well.

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(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

(The Root) -- Though, like so many others, I was moved by President Barack Obama's insightful remarks at Friday's White House press briefing, I stand by my view that the president would have been better served in the long run if he'd let his original comments on the George Zimmerman verdict stand on their own.

Because as I wrote Monday, as "the most visible -- and powerful -- black man in the world," Obama "ought to speak out -- and has spoken out -- in support of Trayvon Martin's family," even though, for better or worse, because he's the president, "it's also his job to represent the American system, with all its attendant flaws."

And though I don't in any way think that what he said Friday disrespected the verdict or the jury that rendered it, if he had asked me, I would still have advised him to move on and let the rest of us continue the debate that's taking place on cable news and Twitter as well as in the halls of Congress and living rooms.

It had been edifying -- to me, anyway -- that President Obama had stayed above all the fray.

But since he did choose to speak on America's relationship with a gunned-down black teenager whom the president mournfully described as a young man who "could have been me 35 years ago," the reflection Obama offered reminded me of what Wall Street Journal columnist and former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan said about Obama's "A More Perfect Union" speech back in 2008: that then-Sen. Obama's words were "as honest a speech as one in his position could give within the limits imposed by politics."

And you could say the same about his eloquent valediction for the late Trayvon Martin.

Given his tears after Newtown, Conn., and his heartbreaking State of the Union remembrance that slain Chicago teenager Hadiya Pendleton was "a majorette" who "loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss," it seems pretty clear that it's this kind of stuff that gets to him as a father.

It would have been tough for Obama to give a more balanced, sober or hopeful exposition of where we should go from here. And while acknowledging the limits of a president, or government, to bring an immediate sense of healing or justice to the tragedy, Obama did offer a template for thinking constructively about its aftermath. No matter what his detractors say -- and they'll say plenty -- it's hard to have heard the speech and not feel that just like the rest of us, even the president is woeful that he can't do more.

In that spirit, he offered his personal experience with being racially profiled -- at least "before I was a senator" -- as a way of explaining to skeptics that while none of us knows the whole truth of what happened between Zimmerman and Trayvon, it's that personal experience with being profiled that winds up being the lens through which a lot of us view "what happened one night in Florida."

He rebutted the insulting notion that's been peddled in recent weeks that African Americans are somehow naive or unwilling to accept that Trayvon was "statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else." And Obama also made the -- frankly -- conservative assessment that "what we're talking about," with respect to the challenges facing black boys, isn't creation of "some brand-new federal program" but, rather, finding a better understanding of the context in which those challenges exist.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM