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Obama Sides with “Skip” Gates, Disses Cops

July 23, 2009

I expected better from the wise and beneficent Wizard of the White House. In his televised press conference yesterday, President Obama tried to navigate cleanly down the middle of the Gates controversy.  He managed to remain reasonably neutral for nearly a full minute. He even cracked a funny and disarming joke about what might happen if he found himself locked out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But then his internal Racial Solidarity Meter must have started clicking wildly, because he came out and castigated those krazy Kambridge Kops for acting “stupidly.” That seemed like a needlessly harsh presidential rebuke to police officers who dutifully rushed to the scene of a break-in. Obama could have said they overreacted. He might have mentioned that Professor Gates overreacted, too. That would have been the fair and balanced approach, because both parties did overreact. 

But no, Obama had to insist that “the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.” Of course, it might have helped if Gates had furnished the cops with his ID when asked for it, instead of spouting bitter invective about the treatment of black men in America.

It might also have helped if the irate scholar had quit yelling for Sgt. James Crowley’s badge number, skipped the asinine references to Crowley’s “mama,” and stopped short of threatening him with repercussions. If I were a cop, I’d bristle if anyone told me, as Gates apparently told Sgt. Crowley, “You don’t know who you’re messing with!”

In the end, Obama simply closed ranks with an esteemed member of the tribe, carefully omitting any reference to the surly and uncooperative behavior of the venerable Harvard sage.  In the Obama version of the story, Gates’s arrest was symptomatic of “a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.” Cue the Minority Grievance music.

I should mention that Obama prefaced his remarks with a disclaimer: “Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here.” (Note to the unwary: Whenever commentators refer to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., as “Skip,” you quickly know whose side of the story they’ll be favoring.)

At least Obama was honest about his bias. But his honesty managed to lose itself  in the miasma of selective recall that followed.

I’ve seriously begun to wonder if left-leaning African Americans — even the most brilliant of them — are capable of opining objectively on any race-related issue.  Justifiably or not, they appear to view everything through the dark lens of their people’s sad history. If I’ve learned anything from the Gates case, it’s that legitimate grievances from the past still have the power to distort perceptions in the present.

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