26 July 2009

Acting Stupidly


I wasn't there, so I have no way of knowing if, as President Obama claimed, the Cambridge police "acted stupidly" in arresting Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, but I feel pretty safe in saying that Obama spoke stupidly in making this apparently off-the-cuff comment. It's the first time I've seen the Prez seriously blow it in terms of both leadership and public relations, and while George Bush could and frequently did manage half a dozen bigger gaffes in the course of a 10 minute press briefing, Obama's shoot-from-the-lip not only gave his opponents a valid talking point with which to lambaste him; it diverted precious time and attention from the far more vital matter of health care reform.

To his credit, the President apologized - well, almost - for speaking out of turn, and will probably, with his invitation to the police officer and the professor involved to meet him at the White House for a beer, end up turning the whole business to his and the nation's advantage. Nonetheless, if I were Obama, I'd have apologized even more forthrightly, or, better yet, not made the remark in the first place. When asked about the controversy at his press conference, an appropriate answer would have been, "I honestly don't know enough about the matter, and what's more, Professor Gates is a friend of mine, so anything I did say would probably be biased." He managed the second part all right, but totally blew it on the first.

I don't personally know much about Professor Gates, either, but from what I've read, his behavior was a throwback to another time, almost another era, and while he may not have created the unhappy situation, his hostility and hauteur (that's a fancy word for "Do you know who I am?" syndrome) almost certainly exacerbated it. Trying to turn a case of mistaken identity into a racial incident (or evidence that we are living "in a police state," as one of the lefter-that-left whiteys on the Counterpunch site had it) would of course come naturally to someone whose entire career revolves around uncovering ubiquitous examples of structural racism, but it's too bad the President had to buy into this 20th century sort of thinking.

Put it simply: anybody, even the most uneducated street bumpkin, should have enough common sense not to hurl verbal abuse at armed police officers, especially when they are there looking after your interests (stopping people from breaking into your home presumably being one such interest). When a Harvard professor, who leads a life far more privileged and comfortable than that of most Americans, regardless of race, behaves like such a bombastic blowhard, it's not necessarily an arrestable offense - okay, not an arrestable offense at all - but it's hard not to sympathize with the police officers, who lay their lives on the line for a fraction of the pay and benefits enjoyed by Professor Gates if they lost their patience with his foolishness.

Well, everyone involved now seems to be saying that this is a "learning opportunity," a "teachable moment," and I'd like to believe that, too. I'm not naive enough to think that racism has entirely vanished from our society just because we have a black President, but neither do we need to continue searching for racism under every rock the way a previous generation did with Communism. For Gates to try and turn his ill-tempered reaction and the police's overreaction into a racial incident (for crying out loud, at least one of the "racist" officers was black) was both dishonest and counter-productive. I'm sorry the President bought into it, glad that he saw and corrected his error, and now can we move on and fix this accursed health care system?

9 comments:

Ronnie R! said...

The fact that everyone took Obama's comment as racist or siding at all with one race over the other in the first place just shows how racism is an issue that will never go away - no matter where it's coming from.

He said flat out later on that everyone in the situation overreacted; the "stupidity" wasn't being displayed by just one person or police department.

al oof said...

wow, i totally don't agree. if a robber says 'i live here', i expect the police to at least investigate that possibility.

i was caught breaking into my mom's house. i didn't get arrested. maybe i was more polite, but the cops were extremely polite to me too. they seemed to assume that nothing was really going on and there had been some kind of accident with the security system.

Anonymous said...

Ah Larry, we knew you wouldn’t be able to let the Gates affair pass without getting your white two pennies-worth in.
Glad to see that in spite of the long silence on race—since the presidential election, is it?—you’re back to your predictable self.

You’re my family’s favorite train wreck.

We’ve been wondering what you’d follow up the ‘good thing Michael Jackson is dead’ blog with.
‘Course my son thinks that declaring that Green Day are bigger than the Beatles was the best ever. Did you by chance get embarrassed and remove that one?
The wife is fond of the one in which you explained that you knew all about people like Sarah Palin because you once lived in Northern California. She wonders if you could see Alaska from your porch?

Anyway, interesting to see that the promoters of today's so-called “punk” now favor the cops over the weaponless.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

Ben said...

So do your wife and son also zero in maniacally on every new piece of Larry's writing so they can get all angry and upset and point out how ridiculous he is, or do you just run around the house screaming hysterically about Larry's latest blog entries?

'Cause if it's the latter, maybe they're just telling you what you want to hear so you'll calm down.

Anonymous said...

No to both, Ben.
No reason to get your bristles up.
The spirit here is wry amusement.
We feel blessed to have Larry’s philosiphications to entertain us at the dinner table.
The National Enquirer isn’t worth the ink these days.
We’ve followed his exploits for forty years and consider him like family.
Besides, it is a public blog open to all which invites comments.
Keep your drawers on Sonny.

Tom said...

Anon.,

Your weird posts say far more about you than Larry, but you probably already know that. You're embarrassed (as well you should be) and that's why you post anonymously. No one knows what you're getting out of trying to denigrate Larry, but it's equally sad and disturbing. Don't you have anything better to do with your time?

I hope you don't really have a wife and kids. If you do, I hope you have the decency to keep the contents of your own "philosiphications" (?) to yourself. I can't imagine they'd want to hear them--let alone participate in them.

Ben said...

Anon, no offense - I was just wondering why you always come over here waving your arms and getting hysterical when Larry says something that angers you. I assumed it was because you're batshit crazy. Now I see it's just "wry amusement." Apologies.

Anonymous said...

Amazing that Livermore is surprised that Obama reacted to the incident in exactly the way you'd expect from someone who spent 20 years at Jeremiah Wright's disgusting church.

Also amazing that Livermore has confidence in Obama's health care reform ideas.

But then Livermore has confessed to use that he did heavy drugs for much of his life.

The rest of the country seems to be waking up to stop this terrible president, and just in time.

Anonymous said...

use=us

Livermore has confessed to us that he was a heavy drug user for many of his years. It's just possible he doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about....