A race question?

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, March 25, 2009, at 3:45 pm

Did she really ask a race question?

This is exactly what I thought after seasoned ABC News correspondent Ann Compton asked President Obama about his use of race in decision-making during his press conference last night. The economy is tanking, the government is growing like kudzu near Interstate 285 in Atlanta, China's talking about a world currency, and you ask the president if race has played a role in decisions he's made as president. What? Are you serious? Who cares?

Here's how the dialogue proceeded:

"Ann Compton-hey, Ann," Obama called out.

"You sound surprised,'' he added with laughter at her reaction.

"I am surprised!'' Compton replied. "Could I ask you about race?"

"You may,'' he said.

"Yours is a rather historic presidency, and I'm just wondering whether, in any of the policy debates that you've had within the White House, the issue of race has come up, or whether it has in the way you feel you've been perceived by other leaders or by the American people,'' Compton said. "Or have the last 64 days been a relatively color- blind time?''

President Obama's response was appropriate. After mentioning that the inauguration displayed a "justifiable pride on the part of our country" because of what we have accomplished racially, he said that all the hoopla about race "only lasted about a day" because of the other pressing issues before us. The president is now being judged according to his effectiveness at addressing the big issues of our time, he pointed out.

Ann Compton is the national correspondent for ABC News Radio in Washington, D.C., and is currently the president of the White House Correspondents' Association, coordinating coverage and access issues with the White House staff.

It is possible that Compton was not expecting to ask a question last night as President Obama even noted that she seemed surprised when called upon. Perhaps Compton had no question in mind so the best she could think of, on the spot, was a race-related question. After all, she was looking at a black man who must obviously think only along racial lines when thinking of new ways to grow the government. Other than race-related questions, what else would one ask America's first black president?

At least Compton did not ask about the president's dogs or where his wife buys her shoes. Given the pressure of possibly being taken off guard, I imagine that I could have offered a series of strange questions as well like "Mr. President, have you read F.A. Hayek's book The Road to Serfdom?" Or "Mr. President, do you think you'll make a Clemson football game in the fall? They have a new head coach. Go Tigers!" Or "Mr. President, what is your favorite snack food during meetings?" These are the kinds of questions Americans want to know the answers to during an economic crisis, right? Actually, reading Hayek now would be very helpful in Washington these days.

I do feel sorry for Ms. Compton because she will probably spend the next few weeks being ridiculed. A few folks have already posted complaints about her question at ABC News.com. "Tonight's question by Ann Compton to the president of the United States was the lamest, worst conceived I could have imagined," one critic posted. In the end, here's the moral of the story: If you're at a White House press conference, always have a good question ready to ask even if you do not believe you'll be called on to speak. Always.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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