In the Arena


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Silly me. I responded to the substance of last night’s press conference, which I thought was quite good, but heavily nuanced, since the President is in the midst of complex negotiations on health care. Most others responded to the style–actually, no, the style was pretty much the same old Obama–they responded to the “lack of” “substance,” by which they meant the lack of a sexy sound bite.

Oh, but there was one: the President’s response to the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. fiasco. This was probably a “mistake” on Obama’s part, since it stepped on the health care part of the program. It was also probably a mistake to delve into a local police matter, even though it involved a friend of his. And we just don’t know what happened–the professor and the police officer are offering dueling accounts. 

I know Skip Gates, like and respect him enormously, and the idea of him being disorderly seems unlikely…until you consider the following: the frustration of not being able to get into his own house, the likelihood the he was jet-lagged out of his skull, the sudden appearance of a white police officer treating him like a criminal. My guess is, he blew up. But still: one look at Gates–he’s my age, he needs a cane to get around–and you know he’s not a criminal. The cop undoubtedly blew up, too. I mean, handcuffs? The better part of valor for the police officer would have been to say goodnight, get into his squad car and leave. The President is undoubtedly right, that the police acted “stupidly.” 

But Obama wasn’t exactly being smart when he allowed himself to answer this question at length. It was an unusual lapse of discipline on his part, giving my colleagues an excuse to resurrect all the tired old stuff about Obama and race–which is understandable since this situation is personal and emotional; the health care negotiations are technical and abstract. Obama should have said, “Skip Gates is a friend of mine. He’s not a very disorderly sort and I’m glad the charges have been dropped.” But then, the guy is human.