It's time to make youth unemployment the focus of our national attention (36211)

No matter how it may appear, these are not such bleak days for the president.

Just look at the choices shaping up for the presidential contest in the fall. This has turned out to be as hapless and underwhelming an array of presidential candidates as anyone can possibly recall in modern political memory.

At every turn one of them rises, only to be discredited and crestfallen in the next moment. As Newt Gingrich’s star is fading, we’re now treated to the rise of Ron Paul, the 76-year-old Libertarian whose mastery of organization in the Iowa Caucus has made him the new promised child of the Republicans.

But Paul seems to have some issues, particularly regarding people of color. Just as it seems Paul’s star is rising, there are now allegations that his campaign newsletter carried pieces in the 1990s that contained slurs against African-Americans and others. What’s more, it seems that Paul made some racially insensitive pronouncements in interviews during that same time period.

For example, he was quoted in the Dallas press in 1992 as saying that 95 percent of the Black men in Washington are “semi-criminal or entirely criminal.” Of course, Paul, a congressman who represents an area south and southwest of Houston, contends that that his remarks in the articles were often taken out of context and that he never wrote many of the offensive passages in his newsletter.

But it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt. In 1992, Paul was closing in on being 60 years old and his worldview was most likely quite well-formed. And, frankly, there’s just too much of a trail of intolerance to be ignored.

But in the contest for the most racially insensitive Republican candidate, Paul has stiff competition from Gingrich. On the heels of his pronouncements about poor (read: Black) kids who need to learn about work by replacing janitors in their schools, there are the thinly veiled racist remarks about his desire for a wholesale assault on the nation’s judiciary-or at least on the judges whose decisions he opposes.

Bad judges, Gingrich said, should be brought in by federal marshals to justify their rulings to Congress. If legislators don’t like their explanations, they should be impeached (one can only imagine what Gingrich might have done with the Supreme Court judges who called for the end of segregated schools).

To be fair, this sort of irrational pronouncement is a threat not only to poor people and minorities but to people of all races and income levels in every part of the country. What kind of presidential leadership is this?

In this bleak national political scene, there is one political figure who, by comparison, appears sober, sensible, measured, mature and, well, presidential: Barack Obama.

While John Boehner pretends to lead the House, the squabble over the extension of a federal payroll tax holiday has forever burnished his image as the reluctant ventriloquist-in-chief for the Tea Party. In the process, it has left Obama looking like the adult in the room.

While the Republicans in the House are imploding because of their shrill, mean-spirited Tea Party base, the president plays the role of champion of the payroll tax holiday that would put money in the pockets of average Americans, continue unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and avert a cut to the reimbursement rate for doctors who treat Medicare patients.

At the same time that the Republicans’ maneuverings cast them in the role of Grinch-like obstructionists, the president’s poll numbers have been improving as the nation’s unemployment rate has been dropping and housing figures have come in stronger than expected.

When all the dust has settled from the Republican primaries and caucuses-and it will be some time before it does-one can only hope that more of the country will see clearly what is becoming more and more evident: While the president has his flaws, to be sure, he’s in a league that’s far superior to anything we’ve been treated to from his opponents so far.