Obama's brew-ha-haPresident Obama’s got his hands full with health care, two wars and the economy. But he put all that aside to have a beer in the Rose Garden
By: Clarence Page, The Dickinson Press
President Obama’s got his hands full with health care, two wars and the economy. But he put all that aside to have a beer in the Rose Garden with a friend and the cop who arrested the friend in the friend’s own home. Out of earshot, journalists focused on Job One: What to call this historic media event.
ABC News offered “the Audacity of Hops.” Audacious, indeed.
The Washington Post reported, “Yes, Three Cans,” “Menage a Stella Artois,” “Beerastroika” and “A Thousand Points of Bud Light.”
My own Facebook friends offered “Dreams of My Lager,” “Fermented Forum,” “Draft diplomacy,” “Yes We Can — or Bottle,” “Brew-ha-ha” and “The Audacity of Cops.’
By then my online pals groaned, “I can barley keep from laughing” and “Quit while you’re a head.”
I’ll stop. Obama called the chat-over-brewskis a “teachable moment.” I don’t know what was taught. Journalists were allowed no closer than 50 feet. But I could guess one thing that Obama had learned: It’s OK for a biracial president to talk about race, but don’t take sides.
He brought trouble on himself when he told reporters he thought Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. James Crowley “acted stupidly” on July 16 when they arrested his friend, Harvard Prof. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., for disorderly conduct in his own home.
Faster than you could say O.J. Simpson, Obama’s approval ratings slipped, particularly among white, working class voters, according to polls.
An NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll, for example, found 32 percent of whites thought Gates brought the arrest on himself. Only 7 percent thought Crowley was more at fault. African-Americans leaned just as sharply the other way: Only 4 percent faulted Gates compared to 30 percent who thought Crowley overdid it.
A Pew Research Center poll found the public disapproved of Obama’s comments by a two-to-one margin, especially among working-class whites. An Obama spokesman said, “the president doesn’t spend a whole lot of time focused on polling.” That’s what presidential spokesmen always say when their polls turn bad.
Conservative pundits pounced. Fox News star Glenn Beck said Gates-gate revealed Obama’s “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” After being reminded that Obama has numerous white staffers, Beck whipped around in a double-reverse. “I’m not saying that he doesn’t like white people,” he said. “I’m saying he has a problem.”
Then he said, “This guy is, I believe, a racist.”
“Racist,” I have noticed, has become the sort of taboo tag to whites that the N-word traditionally has been to blacks. Black leaders partly brought this on themselves. Overusing the R-word robs it of its power and it is easy to overuse. Beck and his like are saying that whites can play that game, too, even against the half-white and scrupulously even-handed Obama.
Judging by my far-right e-mailers (Some of my most faithful readers, thank you very much,) Skip Gates is a “racist” for loudly asking police to leave his house after he had established his identity. Having known Gates for about a decade, I think he was simply overly tired from a trip to China.
And I, my conservative critics say, am a racist for writing that Crowley knew all along that his arrest would not stick — which it didn’t — and that he had the power to defuse Gates’ temper simply by leaving Gates’ home, whether he was yelling at Crowley or not. Instead, Crowley apparently chose to teach Gates a lesson for committing an unwritten but routinely punished offense to police etiquette, “contempt of cop.”
Can’t we all get along? Reports of a “post-racial” America after Obama’s election were greatly exaggerated. If anything, we are a trans-racial country. As Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings illustrated, we Americans suspiciously watch one another across racial, ethnic, gender and cultural lines as we uneasily shed our white, male-supremacist past.
We attune our cultural antenna and react sharply to any signs of preference shown to any group besides the one to which we happen to belong. That’s nothing new for women or nonwhites. Men and whites are still getting used to it.
Either way, Americans look to Obama to be an honest broker between the races. The polls reveal a long-standing divide between blacks and whites on the issues of police conduct vs. law enforcement. Innovations like “community policing” show how the two should not be in conflict. When police and civilians work together, crime goes down. That’s the best lesson we can take away from Obama’s brew-ha-ha. I’ll drink to that.
— Page writes for Tribune Media Services.