Saturday, July 25, 2009

Obama's "Stupid" Comment

Obama ate his words yesterday after issuing an apology to Cambridge’s Sergeant Crowley. Previously, Obama had maligned Sergeant Crowley and the Cambridge police for their arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. by stating that they had acted “stupidly”. Unsurprisingly, Obama’s ill informed statements added fuel to the fire. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal stated:
Mr. Obama’s broadside against local cops sends the wrong message to Americans of every race about how to respond to misunderstandings with police. His comments may also do more to aggravate than alleviate tensions between police officers and the minority communities they serve.
Obama’s commentary was out of line. While some, such as Karl DeVries at Reality Checkpoints, attempt to minimize Obama’s statement, it is clear that Obama’s behavior was anything but minimal. His un-presidential behavior raises a couple of pertinent issues.

Firstly, Obama implicitly assumed that racial profiling occurred. Without knowing the facts and admitting a pro-Gates bias (they are friends), Obama slammed the police for an act they did not commit. As argued in the prior post and supported by Officer Crowley’s account of the arrest, there were no racially motivated behaviors on the part of the police. (In fact, Officer Crowley is responsible for teaching fellow police officers about racial profiling.) Gates was the one who brought race into the picture.

This unfair and heinous assumption is quite harmful. While not fair to declare it as a black militant worldview, as some might, it speaks volumes about our President’s perspective. Up until this point, Obama should have been rightfully commended. He handled the race issue with tact and poise. He refused to be sucked into petty racial quarrels or speak the langue of backwards leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Obama’s gaffe shows a first crack in his otherwise perfect veneer. While it is certainly laudable that he apologized (I always respect a man for admitting he is wrong), the slip-up has done damage to the post-racial worldview that Obama could have helped bring to America.

Secondly, this ties in with a much deeper issue; that of a titan struggle between those who accept and reject a post-racial America. Leaders such as Gates, Sharpton, and Jackson willingly or unwittingly need to maintain a worldview where American racism and oppression exist. Sharpton, for one, is adept at creating racial tensions where they didn’t exist before. On the other side stand the likes of Bill Cosby; leaders who recognize a history of racism, but also acknowledge times have changed and there are other factors that contribute to the plight of the black community.

While understanding the history of black oppression is essential and necessary, the past needs to be separated from the present. Gates falls into the common trap of seeing today’s events through a 1950s lens. While racial tensions certainly and unfortunately do still exist in America, they no longer predominate the interactions between whites and blacks. American leaders have a responsibility to ease these tensions and bridge the gap. However, Obama’s “stupid” comment only demonstrates another issue where the supposed uniting, bipartisan President has become a divider. His comment allied himself with the outmoded old guard of black leadership– a political mistake on one hand, but a historic mistake that will handicap his ability to change the racial dialogue in America.


  1. I think you play into the myth of Obama if you believe that this is the first crack in his "post-racial" veneer. You forget that Obama rejected the Rev. Wright only when the Rev. attacked Mr. Obama personally. Before that, in Obama's famous speech on racism, he said essentially that the Rev.'s racist views were the result of living in racist times. Sort of like blaming crime for the conduct of criminals. I think that Mr. Obama's words show how he truly views the world. Remember, he knows in advance the questions that will be asked at these press conferences. His apology-like statements afterward do not so much reflect a change of heart as they do a reading of the public's reactions.

  2. Upon discussing this issue with friends, a friend of mine related a comparable incident that happened to him. He was forced to break into his own home late one night when he was locked out. A neighbor called the police, not realizing it was him. He was immobilized by police, who came with their guns drawn and forced him to stand with his arms up in the air. There were a very tense few minutes until he compliantly and cautiously informed police of the situation. This man is as white as can be, and yet had guns pointed at him in his own home, with his baby a few yards away. What is different about this story, is that rather than augment an already tense situation, he tried to calm it by cooperating with police requests.

  3. Jeff - You're right. I guess I gave Obama too much credit. There are probably quite a few other 'cracks in the veneer'. I agree that his comments were reflective of his personal worldview and his retraction was exactly as you put it. However, in general I think he has been overall better than he could be (particularly if his views go as deep as you suggest). Thankfully, he is no Al Sharpton. Even if he harbors similar beliefs under the surface, the suppression is better than nothing. At a minimum, not vocally joining in with the standard Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson way of thought may help alter the way of thinking in America. Maybe though I have too much faith that Obama can redirect the racial dialogue in America.

    Debbie- Your story is a perfect example of how the issue of racism solely lies on Gates's shoulders. The professor's worldview and hair-trigger reactions are the issue, not alleged racism within the police department.

    Thanks for your comments!


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