Elmer Smith: Reignited Vick controversy just another excuse to slam Obama

20101231_dn_g1elmr31c
Bloggers are focusing more on President Obama.

SO THE PRESIDENT and Jeff Lurie were just chewing the fat about solar energy at Lincoln Financial Field when, somehow, Michael Vick's name came up.

Could happen. Vick's name comes up a lot in random conversations.

But the President of the United States doesn't get to have random conversations. When the president calls, it's about something.

This was about Vick and dogs and second chances vs. irredeemable evil and whether his success on the field trumps your moral outrage.

And it was about the President of the United States.

President Obama had to know it would come to this. He may not have known that Lurie would be on the phone with Peter King of Sports Illustrated not long after he and Lurie had talked. He may not have known how much buzz King's blog would generate in a slow news cycle.

But he has to know by now that anything he says is grist for the mill.

This is hardly a first. The president touched off a national debate in July 2009 by linking the unfair arrest of his friend and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates to what the president called "a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately."

He showed a firm grasp of history. But the Gates case is no more typical of that history than Vick's second chance is typical of what most felons can expect.

That episode ended with a scene from the theater of the absurd, as Gates and Cambridge, Mass., Police Sgt. James Crowley met under a magnolia tree on the Rose Garden patio for a few brewskis with the president.

This week's candid comment reignited the smoldering embers of the Vick-vs.-dogs controversy. The faceoffs between moral-outrage zealots and redemption-is-real crusaders had started to claim less of our attention. A protective scab was starting to form.

Until we were summoned back to our battle stations and the president's judgment was called into question by what sounded like a sincere sentiment.

White House spokesman Bill Burton drove the backhoe Wednesday as the White House tried to back and fill the chasm this national conversation has reopened.

The president, Burton says, "of course condemns the crimes that Michael Vick was convicted of. But, as he's said previously, he does think that individuals who have paid for their crimes should have an opportunity to contribute to society again."

Of course they should. As reprehensible as Vick's acts were, he's a felon who has paid what a court said was his debt to society. He should be free to resume his pursuit of happiness.

That's what our system of justice decrees. But it may not be what our sense of justice dictates.

Tucker Carlson, a fill-in host on Sean Hannity's Fox News show, catapulted himself into the national spotlight with this bizarre outburst:

"I'm a Christian," Carlson began. "I've made mistakes myself. But Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did it in a heartless and cruel way.

"I think, personally, he should have been executed for that."

You ever notice how often some patently un-Christian statement is prefaced by a profession of faith? An eye for eye, a tooth for tooth, as if it is Christlike to equate human life with the lives of animals.

By yesterday, Carlson apparently had had a moment of reflection and was willing to commute Vick's sentence to maybe life without parole.

But there's no mistaking that what really opened this right-winger's bile ducts was not Vick's crime as much as it was a chance to skewer the president. Much of the running commentary on the blogosphere this week is about the president, not Vick.

So it doesn't matter whether the president called Lurie about solar energy or second chances.

The president had to know that, eventually, it was going to be about him.

Send e-mail to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: http://go.philly.com/smith