Obama ‘Acted Stupidly’

President Obama made a major mistake this week by attacking the police officer that arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. It was a mistake that could cost him significantly.

The President got elected largely on his ability to transcend the racial politics of the past. He presented himself as a post-partisan healer who rejected the transparent race-baiting of a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton. It was one of the reasons why the Obama campaign went to such lengths to bury Obama’s association with the viciously racist Rev. Jeremiah Wright—because it undercut the narrative they wanted to portray.

Now, Obama has waded right back into the politics of racial polarization with his attack on a veteran Cambridge police officer.

All this will do is polarize the country. The police officer can hardly be accused of being a racist—he taught classes on stopping racial profiling, tried to save the life of NBA star Reggie Jackson, and has a sterling record on the police force. Yet the President, without knowing all the facts, accused him of “acting stupidly” and insinuated that race played a factor in the arrest.

Based on the police report of the incident, race did play a part. Prof. Gates’ racist diatribe, not his attempting to get into his own house, is what got him arrested. The mere sight of a white police officer legitimately trying to do his job was met by a tirade by Gates. If anything, it was Gates who “acted stupidly.” Perhaps not stupidly enough to get arrested, but stupidly enough that he was hardly a victim in all this.

By taking sides in this matter, the President was walked right back into the fields of racial polarization. He has diminished his office by attacking a law enforcement officer without knowing the facts—and even if Sgt. Crowley was at fault, the President should not have injected himself into the matter in the first place.

This may not sink the Obama Presidency, but it does hurt him. He came into the Oval Office with the noble goal of being a President for both Black America and White America, a President that would try to heal racial divisions. Now, he has helped to open another racial wound in this country. He “acted stupidly” in doing so, and it may well end up costing him politically at a time when he’s already starting to take political heat.

Race And The Justice System

Heather McDonald takes a probing look at whether America’s criminal justice system truly is racially biased. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the objective evidence does not match the conventional narrative:

Backing up this bias claim has been the holy grail of criminology for decades—and the prize remains as elusive as ever. In 1997, criminologists Robert Sampson and Janet Lauritsen reviewed the massive literature on charging and sentencing. They concluded that “large racial differences in criminal offending,” not racism, explained why more blacks were in prison proportionately than whites and for longer terms. A 1987 analysis of Georgia felony convictions, for example, found that blacks frequently received disproportionately lenient punishment. A 1990 study of 11,000 California cases found that slight racial disparities in sentence length resulted from blacks’ prior records and other legally relevant variables. A 1994 Justice Department survey of felony cases from the country’s 75 largest urban areas discovered that blacks actually had a lower chance of prosecution following a felony than whites did and that they were less likely to be found guilty at trial. Following conviction, blacks were more likely to receive prison sentences, however—an outcome that reflected the gravity of their offenses as well as their criminal records.

Another criminologist—easily as liberal as Sampson—reached the same conclusion in 1995: “Racial differences in patterns of offending, not racial bias by police and other officials, are the principal reason that such greater proportions of blacks than whites are arrested, prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned,” Michael Tonry wrote in Malign Neglect. (Tonry did go on to impute malign racial motives to drug enforcement, however.)

There’s no doubt that the incarceration rate in this country is shockingly and troublingly high. However the solution to this problem is not to pretend that it is the fault of the justice system, but to recognize that it comes from a culture of lawlessness. At some point, the crisis becomes self-perpetuating. A culture in which criminal activity is common is likely to be a culture that produces more crime. People live to the norms they see, and when violence, drug use, and crime become endemic, there is more likely to be more crime, violence, and drugs.

The problem with the idea of less vigorous law enforcement is that the ones who are hurt by increases in crime tend also to be disproportionately members of minority groups. Gang-bangers and drug dealers victimize their own communities, not the suburbs. The effects of out-of-control inner-city crime are not helped by efforts to concentrate resources in places where crime is not such an immediate and pressing problem.

What then is the solution? The neglect of America’s inner cities is a travesty made worse by a false sense of noblesse oblige on the part of well-intentioned outsiders. The only lasting solutions will have to come from within. The problem is not who is getting caught, but who are committing the crimes. Trying to solve the wrong set of problems helps no one.

Obama’s Wright Speech

Matt Drudge has the full text of Barack Obama’s speech on the Rev. Wright affair. As is typical with an Obama speech, it has some excellent rhetoric:

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

Rhetorically, Obama is putting himself firmly in the American story, despite his multicultural background. It’s an effective technique, and it’s one that Obama has used and will continue to use to reach out to the various groups that make up his coalition.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Sounds like a disavowal, right? Except that it isn’t:

Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Rhetorically, this is brilliant stuff. But like everything else that Obama says, once one gets past the wonderful words, the message itself is largely meaningless. Sen. Obama admits that Rev. Wright is a racist with a deeply disturbing view of America. Yet he won’t back down from him (any more than he already has). On one hand, he thinks that this country needs to have a conversation about race—on the other, he is siding with people who preach a gospel of racial division.

Sen. Obama just can’t have it both ways.

Finally, Obama ends with the sort of populist flourish that could have come from any of John Edwards’ speeches. He argues that Rev. Wright is wrong for seeing all the bad in America, and then he ends his speech by arguing that despite all the progress we’ve made, America is still in the doldrums. The final story about “Ashley” the campaign volunteer is the sort of overwrought and blatantly emotional story we’ve heard countless times before—and almost all these stories turn out to be something other than what is presented.

I will give the Senator this: this is a very well-crafted speech. Sen. Obama is a gifted wordsmith, and it seems like his words are more or less his own. The problem is that there’s no substance to his messages. To borrow from Cicero, he’s full of oratio, but he’s lacking in the ratio. He can generate much emotion, but he lacks in logic.

I don’t think this speech will ultimately help him. He is trying to stake a brave political ground, but in the end his message ends up being schizophrenic. He admits he disagreed with Wright, but not once did he think that he should stand up for his own country. If Barack Obama cannot defend his own country from his own pastor, how can he expect us to believe he’ll defend this nation abroad? When the President of Iran calls the United States “the Great Satan” will Obama be as passive as he was when Rev. Wright accused the US of creating AIDS? If our allies denigrate this nation, will Obama have the courage to defend us? Or will he go along with the crowd as he did at Trinity?

The damage to Obama has been done. He isn’t helping himself by condemning Rev. Wright, but only so far. He had this opportunity to have his Sister Souljah moment, and he failed to do so. He had an opportunity to clearly stand up for his country, and he failed to do so. The reality is that whatever Sen. Obama does now is too late: his time to take a stand was when Rev. Wright was making those statements. He could have stood up and defended his country against the kind of attacks that Rev. Wright was launching. Yet when Rev. Wright said that America deserved attack, that we created AIDS, that we should say “God damn America” instead of “God bless America,” Barack Obama sat passively by and let those assertions go unchallenged. That says enough about the character of the man.

His speech may be filled with lofty rhetoric, but it is far too late to make the difference. The American people have begun to see a new Barack Obama—not the charismatic reformer, but the man who sat by while his country was slandered and did nothing. A man who can’t stand by his country against someone like Rev. Wright cannot be expected to stand by his country against far more pernicious attacks. The damage has been done, and while Obama’s efforts at damage control are formidable, he can’t undo his own past.

The Truth About The Jena 6

A local reporter takes a look at the web of deceit surrounding the case of the Jena 6, a case that has been frequently used to show how racist American society has become. What the reporter finds is that the media twisted the facts, failed to get the whole story, and let the narrative of racism influence how they reported on the events in Jena:

The media got most of the basics wrong. In fact, I have never before witnessed such a disgrace in professional journalism. Myths replaced facts, and journalists abdicated their solemn duty to investigate every claim because they were seduced by a powerfully appealing but false narrative of racial injustice.

I should know. I live in Jena. My wife has taught at Jena High School for many years. And most important, I am probably the only reporter who has covered these events from the very beginning.

The reason the Jena cases have been propelled into the world spotlight is two-fold: First, because local officials did not speak publicly early on about the true events of the past year, the media simply formed their stories based on one-side’s statements – the Jena 6. Second, the media were downright lazy in their efforts to find the truth. Often, they simply reported what they’d read on blogs, which expressed only one side of the issue.

The real story of Jena and the Jena 6 is quite different from what the national media presented. It’s time to set the record straight.

This isn’t surprising. We saw the same dynamic play out with the Duke rape case, in which the media immediately accepted the narrative that the white lacrosse players were rapists and the black stripper was the victim. It plays directly into their preconceptions of a racist America. When the truth finally came out, there was no evidence of rape, the Duke players had been railroaded, and the media had misinformed the American public.

Is Jena the same way? If this reporter’s account is accurate, it certainly seems that way. The media once again came in with their preconceptions and molded their reporting around the story that they wanted to tell.

In a democracy, we cannot have a media that deliberately manipulates the facts to bring out only the story that they think is important. Such racial bias has already ruined the lives of several Duke lacrosse players, and now the same dynamic is playing out in Jena once again. Picking at the wounds of real racial animus doesn’t advance the cause of racial justice and equality in this country—and in the media’s zeal to try to shape events rather than report on them, they’ve abandoned their objectivity.