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A “Teachable Moment”

In his self-serving press appearance on Friday, the president instructed the less enlightened of us that the Gates episode would be a “teachable moment” about race. This, of course, is a favorite and frequent tactic by Obama. Call it the “politics of condescension.” You see, Americans don’t understand race and need to learn about “police brutality” and “race profiling.” (No, there is no evidence either occurred in this case, but we’re teaching here, so the facts don’t matter.) Jewish leaders are told to engage in “self-reflection” about Israeli-U.S. relations. (Yes, they have spent their lives doing so, wrestling with morally agonizing issues, but Obama doesn’t think they’ve gotten it right. So back to school for them.)

The irony is that it was the president who got it wrong. The “teachable moment” might well be utilized by him, not the rest of us. Michael Moynihan reminds us that Cambridge police officer Sergeant James Crowley taught race-profiling classes and was a model officer. Hmm. It seems he’s had plenty of instruction on race. Then there are the specifics of this case:

The undisputed facts of the case are these: Returning from a trip to China, Gates arrived at his Cambridge home to find his front door was jammed. With the help of his driver, he attempted to pry the uncooperative door loose. A passerby observing what appeared to be a break-in in progress (Gates’s house, according to media reports, was recently burgled), alerted the police, and Crowley showed up to investigate. It is at this point that Gates’s and Crowley’s stories diverge, though both agree that, before being arrested, Gates yelled to a gathering crowd of neighbors and police, “Is this how you treat a black man in America?”

According to the police report, Gates reacted in a “loud and tumultuous” manner, justifying his arrest on disorderly conduct. Whether or not it was appropriate to haul Gates to the police station–and a compelling case can be made that loud and boorish behavior, while inadvisable in such situations, shouldn’t be an arrestable offense–is at this point largely irrelevant. Gates isn’t quibbling with what constitutes “disorderly conduct,” but rather maintains that he was “racially profiled” by a “rogue policeman” who “couldn’t stand a black man standing up for his rights.”

None of this has prevented Gates from seizing on the incident to, as Moynihan explains, also insist this is a “teachable moment.” Hmm. The president and Gates seem strangely and perfectly in sync. The purpose of Gates’s directive (and the president’s, we suspect), he told an interviewer, was to make sure we all know that America “is just as classist and just as racist as it was the day before the elections.” Got that?

The teachable moment, then, has nothing to do with this incident. On that score, the president and Gates seem to have fanned the flames, seizing on the encounter to heighten, not diminish racial tensions. This is the sort of teaching Obama delights in. The facts don’t matter much. What is critical is the goal. In this case, that would be to raise the banner of racial victimology.

Other teachable moments, real ones based on the circumstances of this issue, might include the opportunity to think twice before accusing a model officer of racism. (Isn’t that racial stereotyping, to assume a white Boston-area cop was out to hassle the black guy?) It might mean the reminder that the president can’t throw around “stupidly” or other slurs and not be held accountable. And it really might be that if Obama feels beholden to his academic friends and their agenda, he is going to have a hard time maintaining the support of nonminority voters who have had their fill of being “taught” by their liberal “betters.” But I suspect none of those lessons are on Obama’s teaching schedule.



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