A “Teachable Moment”

I thought President Obama was trying to clarify and push his health care plan in his address to the nation the other night.

Guess that was not the case, judging by watching the national media the last couple of nights. The President’s hour-plus prime-time event wound up being overshadowed by a question at the end regarding a situation he admitted he had no knowledge about and his subsequent answer to that question.

The crib sheet version of this story is this: A prominent Harvard professor and friend of the President was arrested by Cambrdige Massachusetts police while breaking into his own home. The subsequent altercation led to the arrest of Professor Robert Gates and his being taken to jail. He claimed the offer was engaging in racial profiling.

This was already a hit-button issue, but then President Obama turned the heat up a notch. He said the police acted “stupidly”. His apparent siding with Gates led to national firestorm … followed by some backtracking by the President Friday. He unexpectedly stopped in on the daily White House press briefing and, after announcing he had talked with the arresting officer by phone, admitted he could have chosen his words more carefully during the national address. He stopped short of apologizing for his comments.

That brings me to these thoughts:


President Obama’s greatest strength during the campaign was his ability to deflect questions of race and concerns that he could not look at the issue of racism objectively. After the last few days, it has become clear the resident of the White House is an African-American … and it does have an impact on the way he views topics of race.

That does not mean he is incapable of being a Commander-in-Chief who can ride the country through the troubled waters of race. However, he has to once again convince both black and white Americans that he can deal with this country’s longest running trauma without letting his own personal experience affect his judgement in a biased way.  Such was the case Wednesday when he said “he did not know all the facts in the case” but then accused the Cambridge Police Department of acting “stupidly”.

If I was a member of that police force, I would be asking for an apology as well.

Look, racial profiling does exist in this country. There are examples throughout history of African-Americans being wrongly accused, arrested and imprisoned. It does happen and probably still happens today. The President is in a unique position to change that legacy because he is an African-American and has certain unique experiences that can help lead us into a place where we can be a more united country when it comes to racial issues.

The President hopes this becomes a “teachable moment”. I do as well. I hope it teaches the President that he must maintain the cool and calm he exerted during the whole Jeremiah Wright race incident during the campaign. I hope he does not let his own personal experiences and traumas get the better of him.

He is an African-American, but he has accepted the role of  Commander-in-Chief for the next four years. I hope, when decides on issues of race, sex or whatever, he will step into that role first and foremost. It will help him be an effective leader … and maybe help in his bid for health care reform.

Tuesday night, he lost his cool … and the momentum for his health care plan.

A teachable moment.

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