Open mouth, insert foot …

The Mulatto Messiah is known for his oh-so smooth and articulate style of delivery. But on Wednesday, he took a topic he didn’t even need to comment on, and managed to blow it up into a big controversy, just when he was trying to get us to think “health care reform.”

Why did President Obama make ill-advised remarks on a local matter — the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. outside (not “in”) his home? The last reporter to get a whack at the president during his press conference oriented toward health care reform, brought up the Gates incident. The good professor — identified as “my friend” by Obama, and a contributor to his 2008 presidential campaign — and a colleague tried to break into the front door of Gates’ house on the Harvard campus because the lock jammed. A bystander, thinking a burglary was in progress, called police on her cell phone. Cambridge, Mass., police responded.

That’s when the stories start to conflict. Gates insists that Officer James Crowley, who responded, entered his house without reason and “demanded” to see his ID to prove that it was Gates’ house, as the professor insisted. Gates says Crowley then arrested him for “disorderly conduct.” Witnesses, Crowley’s report, and — allegedly — 911 tapes say that Gates blew his top, shouted repeatedly at Crowley, accused him of “racism” (Gates is black, Crowley white), and repeatedly tried to stop Crowley from leaving his house, as the officer was trying to do after seeing the ID. Gates was demanding Crowley’s name and police badge number, and threatened to cause trouble for the officer with the chief of police. When the confrontation wound up on the sidewalk outside, Crowley arrested Gates on the disorderly conduct charge.

The charges were later dropped. And Obama should have dropped the subject when it was brought up at a nationally televised press conference.  He started by admitting that he didn’t know all the details — then proceeded to call the conduct of the Cambridge police “stupid,” insist that so-called “racial profiling” by police of black and Hispanic men in making arrests is an acknowledged fact (it isn’t; it’s a disputed allegation), and implied that this is just something that black men have to go through in America every day.

What happened to “Getting Beyond Race,” Mr. President? Did you think that everybody would just accept your version of what happened as the gospel truth? Well, they didn’t. It’s pretty well established that Gates acted in the manner that many blacks tend to behave when confronted with authority. The dictionary definition is “obstreperous.” It means refusing to respect authority, kicking and screaming, raising a ruckus when no ruckus was needed. In African American culture, many blacks have called those among their number who acted that way toward white authority, “Bad niggers.” The phrase was normally uttered in an admiring tone.

But your political acumen — and you’ve got plenty of it — should have told you, Mr. President, you had absolutely nothing to gain by framing an answer to a question about the Henry Gates arrest. Esecially when you started out by acknowledging that you didn’t have all the facts. Why not follow that with, “So because of that and the fact that it’s a local matter, I’m going to decline to comment at this time.” Would have ended your involvement with it right there.

Now the president has issued a sort-of-but-not-quite apology for his “Cambridge police acted stupidly” remark, and has invited Officer Crowley to come to the White House for a meeting and a talk. No word yet on whether Crowley will accept, although he might as well. How often do you get a chance to meet the president of the United States in the Oval Office?

But one thing is sure: Crowley is the one who came out of this smelling like the proverbial rose. He was doing his job, in a proper manner; his fellow officers, white, black and Hispanic have vouched for his integrity and professionalism. Henry Gates wound up looking like a hot-headed fool who was possibly trying to “prove something.”

And Barack Obama, who has the name of being a very intelligent man (and is one, in my opinion), appears to have been the proverbial person who rushed in where angels feared to tread. Sometimes, Mr. President, the best thing to say is — NOTHING.


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