Quote of the Day: Obama: 'If I Had a Son, He'd Look Like Trayvon'

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The president calls for a full investigation of the Trayvon Martin case and shows a parent's concern.

For days, President Obama's comment on the Trayvon Martin case has been eagerly anticipated. Today, at a Rose Garden press conference announcing his nomination of Jim Yong Kim to lead the World Bank, he was asked about it. After saying he had to be careful about legal aspects of the case, he discussed how the case had touched him personally. Here's his full quote:

Well, I'm the head of the executive branch, and the Attorney General reports to me so I've got to be careful about my statements to make sure that we're not impairing any investigation that's taking place right now.

But obviously, this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids. And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together -- federal, state and local -- to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.

So I'm glad that not only is the Justice Department looking into it, I understand now that the governor of the state of Florida has formed a task force to investigate what's taking place. I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen. And that means that examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident.

But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

It's a powerful statement from Obama. On matters of race in contemporary America, the first black president is looked to more than any other leader, and the idea that Martin would have looked like him is a poignant reminder of the difference between him and any of his predecessors weighing in. At the same time, Obama has learned to be careful about meddling in local police matters, a lesson he picked up after making impolitic off-the-cuff remarks about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates in summer 2009. Here, Obama strikes a presidential tone, addresses the racial aspects of the case in a personal rather than generalizing way, and offers an condolence that's thoughtful but doesn't appear scripted.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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