Thursday, July 30, 2009
Personal Aside: Gates Cambridge Arrest a Teaching Moment? You Bet!
Dr. Henry Louis Gates remark that his being arrested for belligerent and disorderly conduct provides this nation with a teaching moment was right on the moneybut not in the way he thinks.
Indeed, the episode that may well linger long with the public long after it forgets Barack Obamas futile efforts to square the circle by promising higher quality health care and more of it at no additional costin fact with savings. In fact there is not just one teaching moment but several.
The first is that we have found out definitively that we have a president able to go around the world apologizing for our faults but also a president who cannot bring himself to apologize personally when he has committed a fault. He studiously involves in making an apology any decent man would be constrained to make having been found to be short in the ethics department having said the Cambridge police department acted stupidly when he hadnt even read the police report. Obama slides around to be about as close to a formal apology as to kiss it, groans, sweats but cant bring himself to self-condemnation. He says I think I, unfortunately, gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department Gave an impression? What does it mean to say the police acted stupidly when you knew nothing about the case. He was wrong and he isnt man enough is too proud, arrogant and stiff-necked to apologize.
The second: He allowed himself to play racial politics when he campaigned as one who would move us to a post-racial era, bringing up the concept of racial profiling that has nothing to do when police are called to protect the home of a black person. His promise not to stir the racist cauldron is in fact itself racist: just as when he delivered the so-called racial healing speech in Philadelphia which was to set forth his views after the controversy involving Jeremiah Wright but in which he did not renounce Wright and blamed all sides for racismblack, white, his own grandmotherbut exempted himself. He tricked himself into showing the nation what a charlatan he really is: the event occurring in a state where the governor is black, a nation where the president is black and where the leading participant, Gates, is blackhe decides to play the race card against the Cambridge Police Department.
The Sweet Question.
The third: How the story came to national attention was due to Lynn Sweet of the Sun-Times. Originally it was a race story; somewhat regional in nature until Sweet with the last question of the news conference brought it up, the question being what does this incident say to you and what does it say about race relations in America? Obamas answer opened race to the fiery furnace it once was in the `60s and `70s.
Gee, why would a journalist for a Chicago paper when given the opportunity to ask the president a question simply decide to pick the arrest of Gates in Cambridge and so artfully throw a low, slow, fat softballasking what does this say about race relations in America--to the president to make of it what he will? Sweet has answered it in her stagy who, me? way. His answer made the news, not my question. True enough.
When I started reporting in the `50s the tenor of the working media was definitely liberal. By the `60s with Vietnam, Watergate and the social revolution some elements broke free from the liberal line and became instead, radicals, participants in advocacy journalism. By the time Obama came along he gathered at his feet a cadre of Enabler journalists those who not only shared his ideas but want to enable him to succeed.
Those who qualify as Enabler journalists are many national big names. One is a white network TV host who says that when he sees Obama he gets a thrill running down his leg (and hes straight). Another is a white female daily TV host who told her audience of mega millions her panties got damp with zeal for him on inauguration day. Others are too numerous to mention. But they dont just support Obama because hes liberal, or black. They support him because of what they perceive as his radicality at wide departure from ordinary liberal candidates to crack open all the bad things that have, in their estimation, come to become festered in Americaoppression of non-whites, oppression of women, oppression of gays, the exultance of capitalism, the forays of America into world spheres to smite terrorism but which they believe is a shield for imposing U. S. global power.
Some have become annoyed and restive at Obamas perceived sense of compromise. There have been critics of his speech at the NAACP the week preceding as giving a kind of tough love to those blacks who want to keep the tensions taut. There has been some concern at the White House as some of the radicals have been turning away.
To radicals within the party, the question about Cambridge was heaven-sent as was his answer. Obama swung to the answer without hesitation. Was he expecting it? Sweet says no and we must accept that. The answer was direct, not full of ums-ums-ums.
Was the question good news for pro-Obama-ites? Definitely not. It spun the entire conference from universal health care now called health insurance reform. In a very real sense, it did as much harm to Obama as if it came from the lips of a Fox News reporter. But the question itself was inoffensive. It was his answer that detonated the explosion an answer that seemed to be waiting for the right question.
Was Obama betrayed by the question asked by one who would be expected to be an Obama supporterfellow Chicagoan, close intimate to his key staffers so betrayed he overcame his natural reflexes and swung for the fence? Was he not surprised by the question and wanted to use it to re-identify with the radicality for which he was earlier noted?
Remember in todays Washington we have many liberal journalists; we have a few doughty Enabler journalists concerned with radical social change, believing that when a president is in power he should be impelled to achieve radical ends; we have very-very few conservative journalists.
Obamas career may have been maimed by his answer. It can be argued his answer helped conservative critics of the president; it helped Enablers who want to see radical social change in America; it can be said to have hurt standard liberals who want to smooth ruptures to get him reelected in 2012. Calibrate oh how I love that word since he has used it what effect it has. Interesting. And dont count on me to write more.
Make up your own mind as to which group benefited from the question.