Attorney General Eric Holder announces at the Justice Department in Washington Monday, July 14, 2014, that Citigroup will pay $7 billion to settle an investigation into risky subprime mortgages, the type that helped fuel the financial crisis. The agreement comes weeks after talks between the sides broke down, prompting the government to warn that it would sue the New York investment bank. The bank had offered to pay less then $4 billion, a sum substantially less that what the Justice Department was asking for. The settlement stems from the sale of securities made up of subprime mortgages, which fueled both the housing boon and bust that triggered the Great Recession at the end of 2007. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(The Washington Post) – From his first days on the job, it was clear that Attorney General Eric Holder was unbound by the racial constraints that his boss, President Obama, operated under.

Just weeks after America saw the inauguration of its first black president, Holder gave what has come to be known as his “cowards speech” — an address that crystallized the now-outgoing attorney general’s place as Obama’s man/conscience/inner voice on race (the boldface is mine):

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. 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 race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with, and given our nation’s history, this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.

Publicly, Obama moved to separate himself from the comments, saying that if he had been advising Holder, “we would have used different language.” And in discussing race, Obama has often used different language, or even none at all. Holder, who grew up blocks away from Malcolm X, was the dystopic realist. Obama, who during his first term discussed race in executive orders and speeches less than any other president since 1961, was mostly hope-and-change, appealing to “our better angels.”


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