Friday, July 31, 2009


I know this isn't helpful, but here goes: I think sitting Skip Gates and James Crowley down for a beer at a picnic table on the White House lawn, out of earshot (to protect privacy) but in view of massive numbers of reporters (to maximize voyeurism), was like a non-giddy version of something Michael Scott would dream up on The Office -- a convoluted response to a problem that doesn't function in any way as an actual solution, but instead forces the participants to endure a long stretch of painful awkwardness.

Or another way of looking at it: it didn't look like a profound meeting of former adversaries brought together by a wise national leader. It looked like an outdoor version of high school detention, or traffic school, or some mediation imposed by HR. All the talk about "teachable moments" made Obama seem like a well-intentioned but oblivious bureacrat who overestimates the "character-building" nature of a process the participants find embarrassing and wish were over soon.

How did this happen? Who the hell kidnapped Barack Obama and replaced him with an impostor who actively seeks drama and has no common sense or political savvy?

With regard to the press conference answer that started all this, I keep thinking of Jon Stewart's slo-mo movie reaction (it starts at about 6:00 in the clip) --- NOOOOOOO! I couldn't save him! Gates was clearly arrested for the non-crime of contempt of cop -- but what does the president of the United States accomplish by pointing that out, except pissing off people who think contempt of cop ought to be an arrestable offense, for all civilians or maybe just the darker-hued (or hoity-toity, or darker-hued and hoity-toity) ones? (Yes, I know -- who cares about those jerks? Well, some of them are Democrats. Some of them voted for Obama. And most of them think they believe in unthinking deference to cops as a universal principle, whether or not they really do.) Was Obama right? It doesn't matter. If he were interceding in response to a miscarriage of justice in progress, fine -- but he wasn't. This was just a needless risk of political capital -- and he doesn't have nearly as much to spend as he did a few months ago.

After the press conference, Obama should have unambiguously walked the word "stupidly" back and dropped the matter -- or just dropped the matter. No beer gathering -- or, if there was going to be one, it should have been completely off-limits to the press. No parading of these guys before the cameras. (Sorry -- the press may be to blame for obsessing over this story, but Obama's to blame for feeding them the junk food they crave.)

The latest Pew poll says this story is hurting Obama with white voters -- and I'm sorry, but he needs their support if he wants to get anything done:

Analysis of the poll data found that the president's approval ratings fell among non-Hispanic whites over the course of the interviewing period as the focus of the Gates story shifted from details about the incident to Obama's remarks about the incident. Interviews Wednesday and Thursday of last week found 53% of whites approving of Obama's job performance. This slipped to 46% among whites interviewed Friday through Sunday as the Gates story played out across the nation.

Well, it's over. And not soon enough. Back to work.

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