Obama responds to questions during a news conference Wednesday, July 22, 2009.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
I found myself enjoying President Obama’s Healthcare pitch to the nation on prime time television, as he explained (as most politicians do) why the world will come to an end if we don’t adopt his policies. His arguments were strong and valid, and he made it clear that he was out to help the middle class by letting rich folks pay the bill. I’m all for that.
I noticed how the president used the words “middle class” about 20 times through the night, and allowed nine different reporters to ask questions, none of them African American. But then again, it might have been tough for President Obama to find black people in the room, since there sure as heck didn’t seem to be very many around.
Less predictable was the racial bombshell that President Obama saved for last on Wednesday night. After being asked about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, a prominent Harvard University professor, Obama spent just a few minutes reminding the world that he was not only a black man, but that that he was also an alumnus of Harvard University.
The man who some feel embodies the essence of a post-racial America was suddenly willing to candidly discuss race on behalf of his wealthy Harvard associate. What is incredibly ironic is that these were probably the most post-racial comments Obama has ever made, since they further opened the door to class warfare in America.
The president started by telling the audience that “Skip Gates is a friend” and that he may be a bit biased. Not a good move, since it reminds us of the cronyism that keeps the Ivy League folks in power, while the rest of us wonder how George Bush ever had a chance to become president. Additionally, mentioning that Professor Gates is a friend might have alienated police officers everywhere, many of whom are working-class Americans who have shown support for the officer involved in the Gates case. This is not a time to support a friend. It is a time to be president and deal with the issue in an even-handed fashion.
What made matters even more strained for the president is that he repeatedly acknowledged that he didn’t know all the facts. This was confirmed by the rather sketchy description of events given by the president before he gave his personal opinions. Sorry Mr. President, but that’s a problem. This is a case that has changed the lives of all those involved, so any definitive statement should not be made on shaky ground. In the Gates case, I have spoken to several officers about standard police procedure to get background for articles I’ve written in the media, so I would sincerely hope that my research team is not stronger than the one provided by the White House.
Several questions needed to be answered here, such as the definition of disorderly conduct, and why simply showing an ID to an officer doesn’t prove that you belong in the home in which you are found (for example, there are thousands of cases each year in which the estranged husband breaks into his own home to hurt his spouse; that must be considered by the officer). The point is that if the officer followed procedure (as his police union insists that he did), this implies that the president should be careful with his criticism of the officer and the department.
President Obama’s remarks were worsened by the fact that he stated that the Cambridge police “acted stupidly” by arresting Professor Gates inside his own home. Actually, Professor Gates was not inside his home when he was arrested, since disorderly conduct charges are typically filed when you are causing a public disruption; he had to be outside.
I am not here to say that the Cambridge police did not “act stupidly,” for I have been personally frustrated by cops “acting stupidly” in the past. I am also not here to say that there wasn’t racial profiling involved. But it is my contention that being accused of “acting stupidly” by the President of the United States probably ruined the careers of a few good cops and angered those who wish to know all the details of the case before passing judgment. When you launch a nuclear strike, you must be careful to watch out for innocent civilians. President Obama did not do that; instead he looked like George Bush attacking Iraq in order to get Al Qaeda.
The good that comes out of President Obama’s “Black Panther Moment” is that it shines a light on racial profiling and racism in the criminal justice system. Obama did not, in his statements, speak as if he is part of the “nation of cowards” that Attorney General Eric Holder referred to in his controversial speech in February. Seeing the sudden radicalism among the black elite in response to the arrest of Professor Gates is quite interesting, as it reminds me of how drugs only became a problem when white kids started to use them. Most of my academic colleagues could care less about poor black men, but were up in arms over the arrest of one of their very own.
After my battles with Bill O’Reilly made me the most hated professor on the Syracuse University campus last year, I always thought I was the radical guy in the room. But in this case, I must encourage temperance and fairness. Whether it has killed slaves in the past or destroyed careers in the present, the mob mentality has never been good for America.