Roger’s Rules

Calibrating Your Equivocation

I am as sick of the Henry-Louis-Gates-Sgt.-Crowley-Obama triangle as anyone. I hope they’ll soon convene at the White House for that beer Sgt. Crowley recommended and patch up the whole mess. Advice to Professor Gates: refrain from acting on your offer to “educate” Sgt. Crowley about the history of racism in America: the sort of patronizing grievance mongering that works with Harvard students won’t go down well with a forthright, no-nonsense chap like Sgt. Crowley. (How do I know? Watch this interview and then ask yourself how well Sgt. Crowley would take to Prof. Gates’s efforts to “educate” him.)

I also have a bit of advice for President Obama: lay off the English language. You made a big mistake when you said on national television that the Cambridge police department “acted stupidly” when it arrested Prof. Gates. The real stupidity, as you must now realize, was yours. And you only made things worse when, attempting to extinguish the firestorm of criticism you sparked, you went back on television and offered this preposterous non-apology:

Because this has been ratcheting up and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up, I wanted to make clear in my choice of words I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sgt. Crowley specifically. And I could have calibrated those words differently.

“Calibrated those words differently”? What can that possibly mean? One thing it assuredly does not mean is: “I’m sorry. I said something stupid about an issue that, as President of the United States, was none of my business anyway.” Here’s what I think “calibrated those words differently” means:

I, Barack Obama, just put my foot in it but I can’t quite bring myself to admit that. I know there’s been a lot of talk about my election signalling a new “post-racial” chapter in American history but, really, I am as obsessed by race as my old preacher Rev. Wright. Nevertheless, I had to say something after the unwise outburst. I know that to speak about “calibrating” my words differently is just a bit empty nonsense, but it will at least assuage outlets like The New York Times, which can wave the phrase about and get on with the job of exonerating me.

Will it work? I don’t know. Sgt. Crowley seems to be doing everything he can to defuse the situation and move on. (Take a look at that interview I linked above.) The President clearly wishes he’d kept his mouth shut. I suspect that with his “recalibration” he has just shoved his foot a bit deeper into the presidential maw, especially since Prof. Gates is doing his Al Sharpton imitation traipsing about accusing everyone in sight of racism. He looks completley ridiculous, but people are used to Ivy League Professors making fools of themselves. There will be a bit more of the snigger factor at work whenever anyone mentions Henry Louis Gates in the future, but that’s no big deal. The person most likely to suffer most if Gates manages to keep the controversy alive is Obama. His popularity is already in free fall, and this little masking-dropping episode will only spread the gloom.

A final bit of advice for Obama: the next time this happens, instead of calibrating your words differently, just suck it up and apologize. Here’s John Cleese to show you how it’s done.