I was otherwise engaged for most of Obama’s presser yesterday, but I happened to watch the last few minutes of it on CNN.
The very first thing I heard in the wrap-up was their political correspondent (a woman; I didn’t catch her name) declaring somewhat testily that Obama hadn’t said much of anything new. That was so different from the usual CNN ObamaLove fest that it made me realize he must have done very poorly indeed.
Point-by-point takedowns of his statements at the press conference abound in the blogosphere, so there’s really no need for me to add to them with another general critique. But consider this: even the ordinarily Obamaphile AP found his performance pretty bad, and deceptive as well.
But I did hear Obama’s remarks on the Gates arrest. Even though very little that Obama says these days surprises me, I was still somewhat in awe at the cleverness of his description of the incident. If you didn’t know the facts of the case—and I’m betting that most people listening to his presser didn’t (including Obama, according to his own admission)—you might think that Obama’s remarks made perfect sense [emphasis mine]:
I don’t know all the facts. What’s been reported, though, is that the guy forgot his keys, jimmied his way to get into the house; there was a report called into the police station that there might be a burglary taking place.
So far, so good, right?…The police are doing what they should. There’s a call. They go investigate. What happens? My understanding is, at that point, Professor Gates is already in his house. The police officer comes in. I’m sure there’s some exchange of words. But my understanding is — is that Professor Gates then shows his ID to show that this is his house, and at that point he gets arrested for disorderly conduct, charges which are later dropped.
Now, I’ve — I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.
As you can see, Obama eliminated from the story the notion that there might be any behavior on Gates’s part that could have actually justified the charge, and then called the police’s action “stupid.” Yes, “any of us would be angry” if he/she were arrested for no reason. But any of us would not be angry if police had come to investigate the understandable report of an apparent break-in—which even Obama admits at that point was “so far, so good” on the part of the police.
So, what’s up with the “exchange of words” (a euphemism for: “Gates said angry things to the cops”)? Why would Gates have been angry at that point, when the police had done nothing wrong, which even Obama admits (“so far, so good”)? And if Gates’s words were angry enough and abusive enough, are the police supposed to ignore that because the person is in his own house and didn’t commit burglary?
What was the fuss then? Well, we all know what the fuss must have been: race. At the very least, Gates was most likely accusing the police of being racists, and so is Obama implicitly by his support of Gates, despite his denials ” (“I don’t know…what role race played in that”). As Obama is well aware, white people who are argumentative and/or verbally abusive with police officers are hardly immune to charges of disorderly conduct. Au contraire; but they can’t cry “racism” if that happens. Would Obama call the police “stupid” for arresting a white person (and non-Harvard non-professor) for disorderly conduct, if none of the other facts of the case were changed?
Somehow I doubt it. Obama is (among other things) a lawyer; surely he knows better than to pre-judge the actions of the police here, in a case in which the police are alleging belligerent conduct on the part of Gates as the reason for his arrest.
It’s true that we don’t know how belligerent Gates did or didn’t get. But that’s all the more reason for the President to simply have passed on making a judgment. Perhaps Obama, who attended Harvard Law School (which, after all, is in Cambridge) has some sort of history himself with Cambridge cops stopping him for lack of cause, and it’s payback time? At any rate, I wonder how his accusation against the police played with the National Association of Police Organizations, and what its members are thinking right about now of their pre-election endorsement of Obama.
And here’s that nefarious neocon Bill Kristol on the subject of Obama’s “stupid” remark:
Does he really know enough about what happened to say that? Maybe it was Professor Gates who behaved stupidly, or at least arrogantly. He is, after all, a Harvard professor. I was once a Harvard professor, and my instinct is to side with the Cambridge cops.
It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
As for the cop in question, James M. Crowley, he’s hanging tough and refusing to apologize to Gates. Crowley is by all accounts a consummate professional as a police officer who “has led his colleagues in diversity training.” But no matter; Obama’s rush to judgment on national TV may put this man in grave jeopardy, although I hope not.
[NOTE: Before Crowley became a Cambridge policeman he was an EMT and police officer at Brandeis University, and in an odd coincidence he was the person who answered the call and administered CPR when Celtics star Reggie Lewis collapsed and died in a Waltham gym back in 1993, a terribly tragic event known to all New England sports fans.]
[ADDENDUM: If you go to Drudge, you'll find a link to some of the facts that Obama couldn't wait for, excerpts from the police report (excuse me: the stupid police report) of the incident.
It states that Gates was threatening and belligerent from the start, accusing the officer of racism. His belligerence and threats and declarations that the officer had no idea who he was "messing" with continued unabated, despite the officer's warnings that he was becoming disorderly. There were many witnesses to much of this, which continued out on the street.
Interestingly enough, it comes out in the police report that Gates's door had been damaged in a previous attempt at a real break-in by some unknown burglar. You'd think Gates would have been grateful at the police arriving so promptly in response to the neighbor's call-in. Apparently not.]
[ADDENDUM II: Well, there's one police organization that doesn't think too much of what Obama said, although its spokesperson is more measured and careful in his remarks than our President was last night.
And I can't help but characterize Obama Press Secretary Gibbs' attempt at damage control as "stupid,"---although I admit that Obama didn't give him much good material to work with:
Let me be clear. He was not calling the officer stupid, OK?" Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One. "He was denoting that ... at a certain point the situation got far out of hand, and I think all sides understand that."
Actually, Mr. Gibbs, I think "all sides" understand what the phrase "the Cambridge police acted stupidly" means.]
[ADDENDUM III: The officer with Crowley, the one who wrote the report of the incident, appears to have been a wise Latino named Carlos Figueroa. And "Gates' attorney, Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree, said his client showed his driver's license and Harvard ID -- both with his photo -- but did not dispute other details of the arrest." That would tend to mean that Gates was every bit as abusive and threatening as Crowley and Figueroa have alleged, and that there are enough witnesses to support that fact.]