The part of the Gates episode that will stay with me is the undercurrent of anger, intolerance and racism among some white people that was directed toward Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates -- and, to a lesser, but, striking extent, toward President Obama for his comment on the matter. The reaction of these whites seemed to suggest they felt very offended and fed up by Gates having the gall to lose his temper at a white police officer.
Why were white people so affected? Why were they so "ready" to unload their venom toward Gates?In addition, why were they "blaming the victim," in a sense? Sgt. James Crowley, the white Cambridge, (Ma.) police officer, had not "suffered" or been "victimized" except for being yelled at by Gates and his police department later being criticized by Obama.
Gates had been the actual "victim" in the central event. He was the one mistakenly suspected for breaking into a house that turned out to be his home! He was the one given little "slack" by Crowley in that, after he did some yelling, he was handcuffed and taken to the police station for several hours. Gates' outburst at Crowley does not explain why I keep hearing white people calling in to radio talk shows -- with bitterness and resentment in their voices - to rip Gates and defend Crowley's right to arrest him.
No. Sadly, I think this incident was, to some extent, a metaphor for the state of race relations in 2009.
These "offended" white people did not suffer anything. They're choosing to view Gates - and Obama - as scapegoats for their own underlying, simmering feelings. They're "dumping" their discontent - probably due to their own personal struggles - onto these two black men. Have you noticed the large percentage of white people who seem to keep "driving" this story? Have you read the "Comment" sections that followed the numerous newspaper stories on this episode? Many of the white commenters do not seem to care much about what really happened. Rather, they just seem fed up with certain issues about race.
My own speculation is that a good-sized segment of white people - including those who expressed outrage at Gates - are just tired of hearing black people complain about all kinds of things. I sense this group does not want to hear a word about racial profiling, for instance. They are angry about "reverse discrimination" that they feel goes on all the time. They have no patience or forgiveness toward a black man like Gates yelling at a white police officer, and, particularly having the nerve to allege the officer was motivated by racism. In short, they don't seem to care much about the plight of blacks.
Unsurprisingly, many, many black people who have been interviewed about this Gates episode have recalled incidents when they've been victims of racial profiling. In some instances, the black journalists doing the interviews have shared their own experiences of being racially profiled. The facts on racial profiling are indisputable and troubling. Whenever I hear a black man tell an anecdote about profiling and I realize the scope of this continuing act of prejudice and injustice, it jars me and depresses me to think of so many blacks still being mistreated like this. It reminds me that the civil rights movement didn't improve things for huge pockets of our society.
- Another striking point that emerged from the Gates episode was the enormous impact of President Obama's spontaneous comment, during his July 23rd nationally televised press conference. When Obama remarked that the "Cambridge police acted stupidly," he pushed all kinds of buttons and elevated the entire episode. Obama later acknowledged his poor choice of words, and, clearly, his mere criticism of a police department was very unusual for a President. However, Obama's "mistake" left lingering impressions. First, if he had used words other than "acted stupidly," would the impact have differed? Secondly, do we dwell too much on Presidents and politicians, generally, "misspeaking"? Michael Kinsley, in a July 31st oped in the Washington Post, wrote, insightfully, about how unfortunate it'd be if Obama became more cautious as a result of this "gaffe." "The people who declare that a president has a special responsibility not to say anything offensive have it wrong," Kinsley wrote. "The president has a special responsibility to address important topics and to say important things. That can't be done in a thin-skinned political culture obsessed with gaffes, and with a citizenry overly quick to take offense.......We complain about politicians who talk in pre-tested and rehearsed sound bites, but we punish anyone who strays too far into his or her own thinking." Obama took SO much heavy, somber criticism and attack for his "mistaken" choice of words that one would have thought he'd made a mistake of large scale that negatively impacted millions. The reaction illustrated, again, another kind of intolerance in our society -- in this case, an intolerance toward criticism of police.
- Obama's drop in public opinion polls received a lot of media attention. It hardly seems a surprise to me that a President who has been in office during the worst recession since the Depression who has been forced to approve of unprecedented intervention by the federal government into economic matters and who also is trying to overhaul the health care system would eventuaally become more vulnerable to public anxiety, doubt and opposition. I think, interestingly, that Obama has reached the point when he should reduce his exposure and stop doing so many "Town Hall" meetings and interviews with the media. I think he has grown a bit over-exposed. He should stay in the White House and focus on steps that will increase the prospects to get a good health care bill passed.
- So far, so good. That's what I feel about the relationship between President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The signs suggest the two former rivals have gotten along well and respect each other. I've been pleased that Hillary, thus far, has appeared to be a "team player" and always signals her deference to the President. At the same time, I've been impressed with Hillary's confidence and firmness in her new role. I knew she'd develop a quick command of her new terrain, but, I think she has brought an energy and heft to this position. Yes, she made a few striking blunders on her recent trip, but, all in all, she seems to have helped Obama in a way he had envisioned.
- Vice President Joseph Biden, on the other hand, made a few significant verbal blunders all within a few weeks recently, and, seems unable to restrain his predisposition to speak before thinking sometimes. First, Biden said the Obama administration had "misread the economy" - a phrase the President quickly corrected. Then, Biden said Russsia had a "withering ecnomy" and "they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years." Secretary of State Clinton quickly did damage control, publicly cleaning up these remarks. Then, Biden hinted that the US would not stop Israel from hypothetically attacking Iran if Israel felt Iran posed "an existential threat." Again, the President had to clarify what the US position was by correcting Biden.
- The ultimate verdict on Obama's attempt for major health care reform remains unclear. However, I think the Obama team has been too "loosey-goosey" in its work with the House and Senate on the package. It seems that every few days, we've heard reports of problems, obstacles and political squabbles that've emerged. While I think much of that has been unavoidable, I agree with critics who have suggested that Obama could have indicated more about which components he believes are most critical in a final bill. Obama has tried to have it both ways by talking in generalities and allowing extensive Congressional participation while still expecting to get his way. At times, he has seemed too removed from the discussion -- as if others hold the fate of reform in their hands. Now, more recently, when he got back from his trip abroad, he got more involved. I just hope Congress and the President can meet in the middle somewhere. If reform effort fails, I fear it'll hurt Obama's Presidency beyond expectations.
- Here's a question: Why does the media keep covering the crazy suggestions by the so-called "birthers" who have suggested that President Obama is not a citizen of the US? Ten Republican members of Congress co-sponsored a bill that would require future presidential candidates to provide a copy of their original birth certificate. The bill is all about attracting questions and attention to the phony question of Obama's citizenship --- even though not a shred of evidence has emerged to suggest anything inauthentic about Obama's birth certificate. In other words, it's a total sham that deserves ZERO attention. So, why do I keep seeing television stories about these reckless, phony, laughable allegastions? Answer: The TV networks and cable stations think it's entertaining. So, what they're saying is: "Here's a story that's false, but we think it's titilating to put it on the air, anyway - even though we know it's false - so, we're doing it for ratings. That's how pathetic our news business has become. News = entertainment, period.
- I was upset to learn that one of my favorite Red Sox players, David Ortiz, had tested positively for performance-enhancing drugs back in 2003. I hope Ortiz's use was limited (i.e that he hasn't been using steroids for most of the past six years), but, I have two points: 1) This is not, so far, changing how I feel about the Red Sox two championships. Yes, they might be a bit tainted, but, I feel all of baseball has been tainted by steroids, and, 2) I hope baseball will finally find a way to communicate about players' use of steroids - past, present and future - because I find it impossible to understand the facts and context that go with this topic and what was legal or acceptable or not and when. It's a confusing mess.