Williams asked, “Is this an instance of a poor black kid being beaten by the cops?” No. And in converting this into a tale of police misconduct (he acted “stupidly” Obama said) and racial injustice, Obama only re-enforced the country’s racial divide. Whites often think blacks scream racism at the drop of a hat; blacks think whites are out to get them. Good work, Mr. President.
Fourth, the underlying fault line in Obama’s presidency and his agenda is the growing sense that government is getting too big and is accumulating too much power. It is not just core Republicans who think government is doing too much, but an overwhelming number of independents who are irked by the Washington power grab. Obama, by meddling in a local matter and getting it all wrong, only fed the story line that he is out to boss us around, run our lives, and impose his left-wing perspective on every aspect of American life.
Fifth, Obama has fallen into the unfortunate habit of blaming others. He rails at the “Washington” chatter and doesn’t like the “24-hour news cycle.” His press secretary denies flubs rather than apologize. (What bow to the Saudi king? Nothing to see. Move along.) Once again Robert Gibbs was in full court accusation-mode, sniping at the media for making this story a bigger deal than it was. And again, even when in damage control mode, Obama couldn’t quite walk back his words. As Bill Kristol put it, “He is an arrogant man.” While he has a more sympathetic media than George W. Bush, it soon may sink in that this president is unwilling and unable to take the blame and say “I am sorry.”
The question remains whether all of this matters and how damaging it will be. Obama’s spinners declare it is all behind him. But others aren’t so sure. As Williams argued, his knee-jerk reaction to cry racism “hurt the country and it hurt him.” It was, to put it mildly, exactly what Obama didn’t need. A polarizing event — confirming the worst fears that he is arrogant, not at all post-racial, and prone to play last-and-loose with the facts — is not what he needed in the midst of the biggest political challenge of his young presidency. The stimulus is working, he is teaching us about race, and now he wants to run your health care. Not an attractive picture.