“Cooler heads should have prevailed.” — Barack Obama

July 24, 2009



I’ve thought about this for a couple of days, and I can’t help feeling that President Obama, whose discretion I usually admire, should have stayed out of the controversy over the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. Twice listening to his remarks, made at a White House press conference, reinforced that opinion.

The overarching reason why the president should have kept his counsel because, juridically speaking, the matter is none of his business. It interested him because Gates is a friend of his and because there is a racial element to the controversy. But Obama can’t escape the fact that he is president, and the president should not interfere in local civil or criminal matters — friend or no friend, race or no race. The more particular reason why the president should have kept his counsel is that — to put it bluntly — he didn’t know what he was talking about, and he said so. How does he rationalize saying, on the one hand, that he didn’t know all the facts of the case and saying, on the other hand, that the police acted “stupidly”? I was also astounded that at that early stage of the case, the president — who, mark you, said he didn’t have all the facts — used the occasion to make a strong statement (certainly valid on its own merits) against racial profiling, when there had been no finding that racial profiling had played a part in this case. His remarks added heat to what was already an incendiary situation.



The president’s statement at the press conference put the White House in the awkward position of trying to argue that when Obama said the police acted stupidly he did not mean that the officer who arrested Gates was stupid. Well, then, who was acting stupidly? It calls to mind Will Carleton’s warning about words, that “even God can’t kill them once they’re said,” a caution that presidents –perhaps more than anyone else — should take to heart. The president’s place was to say, as he has with respect to other matters, that it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to comment until the issue had been thoroughly vetted in Massachusetts.


One Response to ““Cooler heads should have prevailed.” — Barack Obama”

  1. Shifty Says:

    I agree, and thought it was particularly bizarre given that he prefaced his remarks by admitting he didn’t know what he was talking about.

    Did you see the wrinkle where the responding officer is in fact in charge of diversity and cultural-awareness training for his department?

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