It's great fun to read the New York Times, Obama's public relations agency, trying to damp down the flap over their idol's "acted stupidly" shot from the hip about l'affaire Gates.
As an aside, I'm actually rather surprised that the heat has been turned up so high. The public knew last year that the Big O was a long-time congregant of mad-dog racist preacher Jeremiah Wright, and decided that was okay. It preferred to look at what O said, not what he did — always a mistake with any politician. O would bring us together, heal us, wash us clean of our racial sins.
Frankly, it's hard to see what that "acted stupidly" told us that we shouldn't have known already. But apparently it touched an I've-had-enough nerve. Even the slow learners seem to have twigged that Obama is the president of some of the people — the racial, ethnic, and sexual identity tribes.
If you will forgive another aside: I haven't read enough in detail about the incident to be certain of what happened, or who was "right." I doubt very much that Officer Crowley acted stupidly, but it's conceivable that he let his temper or authority get the better of him in the face of insults, while Professor Gates let his conviction about the omnipresence of racism get the better of him. The point remains, Obama didn't know the facts or truth either. He spoke reflexively, revealing his world view to be the same as Gates's.
The Times has grasped at a life preserver. Obama is in trouble for "speaking his mind," not for what's in his mind. To wit:
There is no owner’s manual for the Oval Office, no school to learn how to be a president. Perhaps most challenging for any new president is learning how powerful that megaphone really is. Every offhand word, every spontaneous remark, every comment informed more by emotion than calculation risks profound consequences.No school to learn how to be president? Well, how about some experience outside academia and politics, experience of what it is like to have responsibility for the employees and stockholders of a business, or the very lives of the soldiers fighting a world war? How about some time as a lawyer representing various kinds of people, not just selected victim groups? Even within the political realm, having spent more than an obscure term as a Senator might be useful.
… his comment last week on the case of Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard professor, was not a slip of the tongue, advisers said. Mr. Obama said what he wanted to say. The question is whether presidents can really do that.So, the Times implies, Obama's error was not letting his prejudice slip out, but being too candid. Loose lips sink ships of state. There's a dark, seething mass of gun- and religion-clingers out there in the steppes of America who haven't yet accepted Obama's vision of Utopia. They must not be inflamed or goodness knows what they might do. Obama needs to hone his nudge-and-wink skills.
“They want to be genuine, they want to speak their mind,” said Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary for President George W. Bush. “But there’s the recognition that you’re no longer able to muse the way you’re used to. If you’re too candid, that can really haunt you. So presidents learn the art of being circumspect. And they chafe at it. They want to be genuine. But in many ways, they all become more guarded as time goes on.”
David Axelrod, another senior White House adviser, acknowledged that Mr. Obama’s comments on the Gates case had reflected a president still getting accustomed to his new position.“I think there’s something to that,” Mr. Axelrod said. “The fact of the matter is he’s a human being. As gifted and bright and disciplined as he is, every once in a while, he doesn’t use words exactly as he intended or in retrospect discussion it had meaning beyond what he wanted to express.”So, having informed us a few paragraphs earlier that "his comment … was not a slip of the tongue, advisers said. Mr. Obama said what he wanted to say," the story now quotes an adviser who seems to suggest the contrary.
In the end, Mr. Obama said he did not regret weighing in on the Gates case, only the wording he chose because it had offended police officers in Cambridge, Mass., and because it had distracted from his push for health care legislation. He tried to fix that Friday by saying he should have “calibrated” his remarks more carefully while still maintaining that the arrest was unjustified.So, our golden-tongued, gifted, bright, disciplined president falls back on the patent-medicine cop-out (no pun intended — well, okay, why not?) "I regret that I offended … ." But the Great Calibrator still knew the arrest was unjustified. How did he know that? Why, it's all right there, in black and white.