It’s a funny thing. When I was watching the press conference tonight during the Gates question, I think I must have looked away or maybe been writing when Obama made the “stupidly” comment. Because I didn’t hear it. But I don’t think it changes my mind or my original impression.
Now there’s a flood of para-commentary: not necessarily what he said, which is inconveniently unremarkable. But are we surprised that he said it? Should he have gone into such detail? What’s the fallout?
The political press is all atwitter over this, a bit like just after two high school kids square off for a fight but just before the punches start flying. But let’s be honest: this is all about a black guy getting on the side of another black guy who got crosswise with the cops. Why would he touch such a powder keg? Like it’s going to ignite at least one more battle in the late lamented Culture War.
Hopefully now Obama can appoint Gates to the Supreme Court so we can have the Republicans create a media circus when the cop who arrested Gates testifies at Gates’ confirmation hearings.
Here are some salient facts. The house was Gates’ house. From what I understand, no one disputes that prior to his arrest and while in the house, Gates provided proof that the house was his. When you have those facts and the guy whose house it is ends up getting arrested, I think that’s prima facie evidence of bad police work.
We certainly can’t know it was racism. And perhaps there are extraordinary facts that would show the arrest was proper — that all the escalation came from Gates, was unwarranted and left the officer no choice but to arrest him. But I think the assumption has to be that the officer mishandled the situation. Because we hire the police to protect us from burglars breaking into our homes, not to arrest us in our own homes if we get a little miffed at being mistaken for burglars. Police are trained to prevent situations like that from escalating. They’re professionals. And I suspect that people who actually train recruits in best practices policing procedure, as opposed to political analyst and GOP press secretaries, would probably agree with that.
I’m failing in my efforts to feign shock that the president said it.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.