They almost got away with it. Professor Henry Louis Gates and President Obama, I mean. As late as yesterday afternoon, I thought they were on the threshold of transforming an enormous embarrassment into a a public relations coup.
I suppose they still might succeed. The President is not stupid. He had hardly finished declaring that the Cambridge police department “acted stupidly” for arresting Professor Gates for disorderly conduct than he began to back and fill. I thought his “I-should-have-calibrated-my-words-differently” speech was a disgusting piece of political evasion, but its seems to have gone down pretty well with the liberal end of the commentariat. And then there was the “call me Jimmy,” “call me Barack” moment when the President rang up Sgt. Crowley to the White House for a “teachable moment” and a beer with Professor Gates.
For his part, Professor Gates had moved suddenly from threatening to sue Sgt. Crowley, accusing him of being a “rogue policeman,” agreeing with the President’s “acted stupidly” remark, to offering to “educate” Sgt. Crowley (and the rest of us!) about the history of racism and agreeing to join the White House beer fest with his friend, the President, and his arresting officer, Sgt. Crowley. Big hug, what?
Not quite. Who knows how that little pow-wow at the White House will go. But there is a bad case of disillusionment going around, and it’s affecting the public’s perception of both Professor Gates and the President. Until yesterday, it looked as if the racialist Left was going to succeed in rewriting this tidbit of American history. Now I have my doubts. Barack Obama was to be the hero of the new script, with Henry Louis Gates in a major supporting role. Sgt. Crowley was to be the (somewhat) lovable villain who Saw the Error of His Ways. I don’t think that scenario is going to wash. The just-released tape of the conversation between Sgt. Crowley and Lucia Whalen, who phoned the Cambridge police to report a possible break-in, puts paid to any question that the report, or Sgt. Crowley’s decision to investigate, was racially motivated.
Then there is the embarrassing conjunction of Professor Gates’s statement that he had devoted his career to “attempting to bridge differences and promote understanding among all Americans, especially between blacks and whites,” and the statement in his Yale College application that “As always, whitey now sits in judgment of me, preparing to cast my fate.” How’s that for promoting understanding?
But the event that will forever spoil the Obama-Gates effort to co-opt the moral high ground in this controversy was policewoman Kelly King’s testimony on behalf of her colleague Sgt. Crowley, against Professor Gates, and very much against President Obama. Race had “nothing to do” with Professor Gates’s arrest, Officer King said. The issue of race was just a “smokescreen” erected by Professor Gates to deflect the blame away from himself. As for President Obama and his comments about the Cambridge police: Kelly (who is black) was withering: “I supported him. I voted for him. I will not again.” I suspect that’s a litany that will be repeated in many, many households as the reality of this nasty little effort to rewrite history gets around.
Update: On the tape, Lucia Whalen is talking to the 911 dispatcher, not Sergeant Crowley.