Thursday, July 30, 2009

Stupid is as Stupid Does

A friend of mine posted this Slate article on Facebook. Christopher Hitchens' piece is interesting because it starts with a scene in which he, as a white man walking the streets of California, speaks smartly to a cop. The cop drives away, frustrated that he doesn't have "probable cause" and as a result Hitchens doesn't have to answer his questions. He contrasts this to Henry "Skip" Gates's recent arrest in his own home. The media has had a field day with the Gates story and I suspect the real story of why Gates was arrested will remain unknown to many of us.

What stood out for me in Hitchens' piece was the discussion of President Obama's comments regarding the incident. I happen to agree with President Obama in his initial assessment, the Cambridge police acted "stupidly" by arresting a man in his own home. However, Hitchens is right, the president should not have weighed in on a local dispute to begin with. But once he did, it would have been nice if he refused to retract his statement. Even if we don't know what the story was between Gates and the arresting officer, I'd argue most logical people do not believe it's okay to arrest a man in his own home - some of us might summarize the act as "stupid."

I have two regrets about the President Obama inserting himself into the debate: In a press conference focused on healthcare, the usually disciplined president distracted the entire nation by answering a question about his friend (and a topic I'm sure he finds vexing). Two days later, the president retracted his comments (being the healer-in-chief that he is).

I would have preferred if he clarified why the act was "stupid" rather than retract the statement and try to make peace over beer. But it is what it is. Hopefully in the future, we can have the race (and racism) debate more constructively.

Nonetheless, now that the beer bottles are empty, can we please return to a quasi-constructive healthcare debate.

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