LYNN SWEET: Thank you, Mr. President. Recently, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested at his home in Cambridge. What does that incident say to you? And what does it say about race relations in America?
Now let's see exactly what the context of this discussion was and how it started. The above is the exact text of the question as posed to the President during his press conference this past Wednesday. Incidentally, this was the last question of the press conference. Let's be clear. The President did not initiate the question. As Lynn Sweet has posted in her column, "When the President called on me, he had no idea what I would be asking. I had not written or blogged about the Gates incident, so no one in the White house had any clue that I was particularly interested in Obama's reaction".
If you have been listening to all of the commentary over the last few days, you would get the impression that the President, willingly and willfully, decided to comment on the Gates incident as his final input to the health care debate. You may say whatever you wish about his comments. That is a separate discussion entirely. You may have been in complete agreement with his response or felt completely to the contrary. The point is, he was asked a question and he gave a response. My personal take is that if the President is asked a question, he should give an honest answer. You may or may not like his answer. If you don't like the answer that you get, perhaps you should not have asked the question.
The problem here is that the President answered the question. In his press conference today, he willingly admitted that his choice of words may have inflamed the debate. That was his decision and I have no problem with his response as given today. He has every right to decide for himself what he intended or did not intend to say. I agree with him that the discussions of the last couple of days affords us all a moment for a "teaching opportunity". If you disagree, you are missing the larger picture. The issue is not who was right or who was wrong. The issue is how did the situation percolate to it's current status. In all likelihood, both Professor Gates and Officer Crowley share some degree of fault in the manner in which both handled the situation. As they are obviously from different cultures and have different backgrounds, it should be no surprise to anyone that neither of them would see the same situation through the same prism. It is encouraging however, that all parties are willing to meet and learn from this unfortunate circumstance. I am certain that contrary to popular belief, all parties will soon realize that every side of an argument is not necessarily equal. When this is realized, there will be progress.
If we are to carry this discussion further, we need to be completely honest with ourselves. I know that there are certain taboo's that have long been considered off limits in this country. I respectfully disagree. For some unknown reason, we are not allowed to question or criticize the actions of certain groups. This is beyond the current discussions surrounding those of Professor Gates and Officer Crowley however, one comment needs to be made on this subject, as I believe it is another of those topics that we skirt around everyday because it is "too sensitive" to talk about.
I speak of criticisms of two groups…policemen and fire fighters. These are two groups who work on the front lines for all of our safety day in and day out. Many of these individuals are heroes' in their own right. That being said, I for one do not believe that they are beyond reproach. As is the case for every other group or organization, policemen and fire fighters must be held responsible and accountable for their actions. The final outcome in the current debate has yet to be determined and I certainly agree that we should wait for those results. Until that time, in a democratic society, every group is open to criticism. That is the way it should be. We criticize doctors, lawyers, professors and teachers, public officials and even the Pope. Policemen and fire fighters should be no exception.
If you seriously think about it, the only group that seems to get a free pass everyday are the members of the media. Whenever the vortex of a tornado is spinning, rest assured that the media will be in the center, churning its headlines and sound bites. If you listen to any lead-in on network or cable news, you can be assured that a sound bite will follow, and that any so called "story" will be milked for as long as possible.
Professor Gates and Officer Crowley are not the villains here, they are only the instruments of distraction for an all knowing media.