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Saturday, July 25, 2009

The President Steps into a Giant Political Landmine

It's now day three of the Gates/Crowley arrest moving from a marginal local story to the number one national story. That happened when, while acknowledging one party was a friend and not having all the facts, President Obama proclaimed that the Cambridge police "acted stupidly". The next day the president stuck to his guns and even acted surprised that his comments raised such an uproar. Yesterday, he attempted to tamp down the pressure by sort of apologizing and calling both parties for a sit down.

So far, that has done little to tamp down the controversy. This continues to be the number one story on cable and it may be that way another couple days. All of this couldn't have come at a worse time. The president is losing popularity and even more losing popularity on his health care bill. Both appear in free fall. Meanwhile, the national conversation has turned to a story in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Cable news is a peculiar thing. The story is pretty simple. The professor, Henry Gates, was locked out of his home. He broke in. His neighbor saw this and called the cops. The cops, who had a prior break in at that home earlier in the day, responded. There was a confrontation and Professor Gates was arrested. Then, the president responded to a question at his health care presser by blaming the cops. Then, after this created a firestorm, he walked this comments back. That's it. Yet, if you watch cable news enough, this narrative gets repeated over and over.

That's bad news for the president. He wants the narrative to be about health care. Yet, as we get into a crucial period, the narrative is about something totally different. Worse yet, the president is nearly universally condemned for his initial comments. Even his non apology leaves plenty to be desired. The president has again been caught straddling nuance in a way that no one can be happy with. As Mark Steyn aptly put it, the same person that wanted to stay neutral as Iranian police beat up protestors had no trouble condemning the cop in an incident he didn't witness.

In walking his comments back, the president said his comments were misconstrued as condemning the Cambridge police department. However did we construe his comments like that? It must have been between where he called said that the Cambridge police department acted stupidly. Maybe in Hyde Park saying you acted stupidly is a compliment but in the rest of the country that's an insult.

So, now, the administration has to deal with the media being fixated on a story in a small well to do suburb of Boston. In a loop, we hear that the president characterized the actions of a white cop as "acting stupidly". Then, we all hear the non apology, apology, and on and on it goes. In a few days, this will all end. Instead of focusing on health care, the president is caught on the wrongside of most cops and in the middle of a story that involves our ugliest sentiments on race and class. In the meantime,his approvals will drop another few points. A few more points will be shaved from the health care proposal. Meanwhile precious time will be used up that could have been spent selling health care. For now at least, there's nothing the president can do about it.

Some have speculated as to why the president commented as he did. I won't do that. I'll just say he acted stupidly.


xformed said...

Do you mean Barack Hussien Obama commented stupidly, or the Office of the President of the Untied States commented stupidly? I need the nuance to make sure I understand how your apology should come later the next news cycle...on all the cable news networks...:)

bnett said...

I do not agree that this controversy was accidental. I believe it was cynically calculated to draw attention away from the failing (hopefully) ObamaCare plan. The president's team only miscalculated the backlash from playing the race care yet again.

mike volpe said...

I didn't say whether or not it was accidental. A lot of conservatives are, however, creating ODS now. You can't read minds so I don't know how you would know what Obama's motivation was.

Anonymous said...

By ODS do you mean Obama Derangement Syndrome?

Anonymous said...

Well, the cops here are horrible and they are horrible everywhere I have lived. Here, the cops and city hall gang up on us and pick on us and bully us and they stick up for the liars and thieves. They can't see a car without a front license plate or see any junk cars on people's front lawns or in the street that haven't moved in over 20 years. They can't see the basketball hoops in the street or all the people playing basketball in the street all day long. Or everybody riding their bikes on the sidewalks or kids with no helmets or anything else. They sure are smart. They drive around all day doing nothing. Then they say it will take them three days to come out whenever you call them for any reason.

mike volpe said...

ODS is Obama Derangement Syndrome.

As for the cops, I don't where these cops are supposed to be but coming onto a website and maligning police officers in general doesn't take much courage.

Anonymous said...

Gates is lucky that the secret service wasn't responding.