Commentary Magazine


Where Is Silent Cal When We Need Him?

As Roger L. Simon points out, among the big losers in the George Zimmerman trial is Barack Obama. He injected utterly gratuitous emotion into the affair at an early point by saying that had he had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon Martin. This, in turn, empowered race baiters like Al Sharpton to stir up trouble and turn a fairly routine homicide case into a national circus. The case against Zimmerman was so weak that the local police chief and district attorney, who thought Zimmerman’s actions had been justified, had to be fired in order to obtain an indictment that should never have been brought in the first case. Fortunately, the jury did its duty and thus, as one of the defense attorneys said, a tragedy was not turned into a travesty.

Obama has a history of shooting his mouth off and getting himself—and often a lot of other people—into trouble. When Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates got into an altercation with a Cambridge, Massachusetts, policeman, the president, ignorant of the facts, said that the policeman had “acted stupidly.” It turned out that the policeman had acted strictly by the book and it was Gates who had acted stupidly.

Now it is being reported, by the New York Times no less–and on the front page–that an off-hand remark by the president has severely complicated military sexual assault cases. Obama said that those who commit sexual assault in the military should be “prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged.” Few people, I imagine, would disagree with that. But Obama is not just an individual expressing an opinion at a cocktail party. He is president of the United States and thus commander in chief of the armed forces. Every word he says in public is reported. As the Times explains:

In at least a dozen sexual assault cases since the president’s remarks at the White House in May, judges and defense lawyers have said that Mr. Obama’s words as commander in chief amounted to “unlawful command influence,” tainting trials as a result. Military law experts said that those cases were only the beginning and that the president’s remarks were certain to complicate almost all prosecutions for sexual assault.

“Unlawful command influence” refers to actions of commanders that could be interpreted by jurors as an attempt to influence a court-martial, in effect ordering a specific outcome. Mr. Obama, as commander in chief of the armed forces, is considered the most powerful person to wield such influence.

Perhaps the 44th president should do himself—and the country—a favor by taking a few minutes to go stand in front of the White House portrait of the 30th president, and absorb some of Calvin Coolidge’s wisdom regarding the value of silence.