Attorney General Eric Holder said recently that America is "essentially a nation of cowards" for not talking more frankly about race.
Only days later, protesters from the NAACP are demanding the head of an editorial cartoonist because they think he compared Barack Obama to a chimpanzee.
If this is a nation of cowards - and we don't think it is - this kind of thing is precisely why.
First things first.
If we thought for a second that cartoonist Sean Delonas really intended to compare our president to a chimpanzee, we'd be the first to call for his being tossed out on his stump. President Bush was compared to a chimp too, but that in no way carries the racist baggage of doing such a thing to our first black president. And, in fact, no one came out swinging faster or harder than we did when a Marietta, Ga., bar owner last year sold T-shirts depicting Obama as the chimpanzee children's book star Curious George ("Spurious George," May 16 Augusta Chronicle).
We just don't see the same hurtful intent in the cartoon incident. Not at all.
In the New York Post cartoon, police officers have shot a chimp, and one says, "They'll have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill."
Delonas was using the metaphor of the recent police shooting of a chimp in Connecticut that had attacked a woman, in order to make a statement about how brainless he thinks the stimulus bill is.
In a real "nation of cowards," such matters of opinion will be left unexpressed, for fear of offending someone who might take it wrong.
Meanwhile, the New York Post has apologized to those who did take it wrong. But in today's America, you can be taken wrong and apologize and still lose your job.
The truth is, Barack Obama did not write that bill anyway. It was written by an out-of-control Democratic majority led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who couldn't help but put every pent-up left-wing cause into the massive spending bill. Much of it had nothing to do with stimulating the economy.
It was, as the cartoon implied, a stupid bill.
Still, rather than have a frank discussion, some want the cartoonist's head on a platter.
This isn't the kind of America Barack Obama talked about in his landmark speech on race in 2008. In it, he denounced his former pastor's racist sermons by saying the Rev. Jeremiah Wright "expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America."
Likewise with this hyper-emotional reaction to the cartoon - and with the words of Obama's own attorney general.
The president could calm the waters in both instances. We wish he would let it be known that he doesn't take offense to the cartoon. And, as Forbes.com columnist Tunku Varadarajan writes, the president should rebut Mr. Holder's view of America, which is so completely at odds with the nation that just elected a black man president.
"President Obama, could you set the record straight?" writes Varadarajan. "Tell us that your attorney general is mistaken and misguided. Tell us, please, that he ought to know better."
In short, the president needs to lead the discussion his friend is so anxious for.