A BEER IS NOT AN APOLOGY
By Andy Weddington
Friday, 31 July 2009
Well there’s nothing like a stupid comment by the President—and 44 made a lulu last week—to turn a ho-hum incident into a national brouhaha. As if we need another one to add to the mess Obama is making of America.
Though there has been no shortage of coverage on television, radio, on the Internet and in ink, one more commentary on the recent arrest of Harvard professor Henry Gates.
In short, on the 16th of July a woman passing through a neighborhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts saw two men attempting to force their way into a residence. Believing a break-in was in progress she telephoned the police (kudos for doing her civic duty). Sergeant James Crowley responded.
On the property, Sergeant Crowley saw an older male who happened to be black (note: ethnicity was not reported by the caller) in the residence and proceeded to approach and determine his identity. Defiant and uncooperative, Gates—the male in question and later determined to be the owner of the home finally produced photo identification. Witnesses and the police report note that Gates was down right hostile toward Sergeant Crowley yelling accusations of him being a racist police officer and leveling not-so-subtle threats stating he (Crowley) did not know who he was “messing” with.
Gates—a supposed “scholar,” despite his formal education and academic credentials, was not savvy enough to appreciate the appearance of a potential crime in progress—race not withstanding, or that the police officer was there to protect him (Gates) from possible crime, or calm himself once his identity was accepted (by Sergeant Crowley), continued to chide Sergeant Crowley. In the presence of other police officers, including Harvard University police and other curious onlookers, Gates repeatedly demanded Sergeant Crowley’s name (which was provided more than once) and called him a racist—all while Sergeant Crowley was departing the residence.
Professor Gates, told to calm down multiple times, ignored the police. Accordingly and per police procedure, Sergeant Crowley hand-cuffed Gates and placed him under arrest for disorderly conduct. Though transported to the police station where he was booked and processed by Sergeant Crowley the charge(s) were soon dropped.
That’s the Executive Summary. Other on-scene police officers, including at least one black officer, said Sergeant Crowley was professional and followed police procedure. Race had nothing to do with the incident—other than the professor’s hysterical behavior and trying to make it an issue.
Enter President Obama--last week during his press conference addressing healthcare reform he replied to a reporter’s question about the arrest of Professor Gates. Obama noted Gates was a friend and went on to say, though not fully knowing circumstances and facts, “the police acted stupidly.” He implied there was an element of racial profiling. Oops! Boy, was that dumb. Or was it blurted hastily reflecting true sentiments?
Either way, now, as loveable Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife—of The Andy Griffith Show—would say, “We have a situation on our hands.” The President just turned a fairly routine police call—that should have been cleaned up and filed without fanfare (maybe making the “Police Calls” section of the local rag)—into a great big problem; now Obama’s problem.
The President, trying to tidy up his mess, made the situation worse—by saying he should have “calibrated” his words differently and that the incident was a “teachable moment.” Fact is there was no need to “calibrate” words—the President screwed up and he should have said so. And, a “teachable moment”—that’s a given and an understatement.
The President, billed as intelligent and wise (but not more so than a Latina woman), had he any class and humility should have stepped up to the microphone and simply said, “Folks, I made a mistake. Now that I have completely extracted my foot out of my mouth, let me be clear. I did not know the facts surrounding my friend’s—the professor’s—arrest and it was wrong of me to comment. No one should ever argue with or confront a police officer while in the midst of performing their duties—always cooperate. We have courtrooms to sort out the law. I apologize to Sergeant Crowley, to all across the country working in law enforcement, and to every American who expects a higher standard of decorum and personal conduct from their President. Thank you. Now, let’s move on.” And that would have probably ended it.
Unfortunately, the President’s ego and seeming arrogance overwhelmed his supposed intelligence and wisdom and the warranted apology did not happen. Too bad he could not find it within himself to let the words, “I apologize,” roll off his tongue as quickly as "the police acted stupidly."
Obama’s side-stepping to preclude admitting his error—that he is human—is unflattering; to say the least. His poll numbers continue to slide—even some who enthusiastically supported him are bailing—and it’s pretty easy to see why. This episode and others (e.g. his Stimulus scam, sundry ludicrous bailouts, and chilling remarks concerning “healthcare” for the elderly when ill in his reform scheme) have caused many to pause and seriously question as to whether or not he is the man he (and others) presented himself to be. He is not. Some saw through his façade from the beginning—paying attention to his record and past behavior. For others--the blind optimistic otherwise known as the "wits" trio--dim, half, and nit--clarity is coming with time.
President Obama was correct about one thing; the incident was a “teachable moment” but not necessarily in the light in which he framed it. The way most rational, well-mannered Americans see it: 1) when you don’t know what you’re talking about—even if you’re the President—keep your mouth shut; 2) Always cooperate with a police officer—smother them with respect and kindness—“Yes, Sir (Ma’am) and No, Sir (Ma’am)” go a long, long way; 3) it’s okay to admit making a mistake—even if you’re the President—it’s part of being human and part of life; 4) common sense and common courtesy make life much easier; 5) a simple, heartfelt apology can work miracles—especially if you’re the President and; 6) even Harvard professors and presidents do and say stupid things.
Was the President’s remedy of a beer fest at the White House with Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley appropriate? Hardly. First, it was nonsense--he deflected attention from his foopah postioning himself as the mediator for a riff between Gates and Crowley. Baloney. Professor Gates was out of line. Sergeant Crowley did his job. Obama was the problem--he turned a petty blemish into a great big festering sore--and it will ooze for some time to come. Second, it was shallow--nothing more than patronizing damage control and a photo op for Obama. Third, without the direct, caveat-free apology from the President the stunt was flatter than a pilsner of stale ale.
Sergeant Crowley (and his family) did not deserve being thrust into the media spotlight. He deserves an apology—and, since he was ridiculed in the public arena, so should the President’s apology be offered publicly. A couple of the most fundamental elements of leadership pertain: 1) admit when you are wrong or err; 2) praise in public (admonish in private). The President would garner more respect and appear more gentlemanly and presidential if he acted accordingly. Sadly, he won’t. He's done nothing to date to indicate such is in his character.
An earlier commentary noted the President would be well-served by familiarizing himself with ‘George Washington’s Rules of Civility’ penned by John T. Phillips, II. Here is yet another situation where the 73rd Rule, as found on the bottom of page 83, would have saved Obama much embarrassment: “Think before you speak. Pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.”
Our 44th President has much to learn from our 1st President. With three and a half years left in office he'd be smart to read the Phillips book. If only he has the humility to do so. Not likely. Amateur hour is sure to continue. And there’s nothing funny about it.