Whatever news that President Obama did or didn't make on health care, I predict by this time it will be totally forgotten in the furor over his final comment, about the apparent racial profiling of his friend, Harvard professor Henry Louis "Skip" Gates. In case you were watching "America's Got Happy Feet" or whatever it was that Fox was showing, here's the critical part:
Obama called Gates a friend, and said he doesn't know all the facts of the case. Nonetheless, Obama said, anyone would have been angry if treated the way Gates claims police in Cambridge, Mass., treated him. Gates claims he was arrested in his own home after showing ID to police who responded to a report of a possible burglary.
"Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof he was in own home," Obama said during a prime-time news conference that otherwise focused on the health care debate.
"What I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there's a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately," Obama said. "That's just a fact."
In this episode, Obama is clearly a divider, not a uniter. The president's use of the word "stupidly" in relation to the police (even the police in that "socialist" Ivy League berg) is going to be the shot heard 'roud the right-wing talk radio world. Meanwhile on the left, you could hear a palpable "amen" from those who were thrilled to see a president take such a strong stand against racial profiling.
I myself was certainly pleased with the president had to say about the broader issue of race (and he also told the funniest joke of his presidency, not that there's been much competition). But I think he made a huge goof in spouting off about the specifics of the Cambridge case while some of facts seem to be still in dispute. That's a no-win proposition -- the initial reports looked bad for the cops but nonetheless it's also an evolving situation. It's not quite the same, but I remember a bit of a PR fiasco with Richard Nixon when he made remarks about Charles Manson being "guilty" right in the middle of Manson's trial. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.