Last night, Obama's news conference was little more than free TV time to take his case on health care reform to the American people.
Overall, the questions were poor and Obama's answers were worse. Obama refused to give direct, succinct answers. He dodged the questions. He blathered on and on. He lied and the press didn't press him.
All the questions were about health care except one, only one, the final one.
He didn't dodge and weave when he responded.
LYNN SWEET: Thank you, Mr. President. Recently, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested at his home in Cambridge. What does that incident say to you? And what does it say about race relations in America?
OBAMA: Well, I -- I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here.
I don't know all the facts. What's been reported, though, is that the guy forgot his keys, jimmied his way to get into the house; there was a report called into the police station that there might be a burglary taking place.
So far, so good, right? I mean, if I was trying to jigger into -- well, I guess this is my house now, so -- (laughter) -- it probably wouldn't happen.
(Chuckling.) But let's say my old house in Chicago -- (laughter) -- here I'd get shot. (Laughter.) But so far, so good. They're -- they're -- they're reporting. The police are doing what they should. There's a call. They go investigate. What happens?
My understanding is, at that point, Professor Gates is already in his house. The police officer comes in. I'm sure there's some exchange of words. But my understanding is -- is that Professor Gates then shows his ID to show that this is his house, and at that point he gets arrested for disorderly conduct, charges which are later dropped.
Now, I've -- I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.
And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcing disproportionately. That's just a fact.
As you know, Lynn, when I was in the state legislature in Illinois, we worked on a racial profiling bill because there was indisputable evidence that blacks and Hispanics were being stopped disproportionately. And that is a sign, an example of how, you know, race remains a factor in the society.
That doesn't lessen the incredible progress that has been made. I am standing here as testimony to the progress that's been made. And yet the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, this still haunts us.
And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently, and oftentime for no cause, casts suspicion even when there is good cause. And that's why I think the more that we're working with local law enforcement to improve policing techniques so that we're eliminating potential bias, the safer everybody's going to be.
Obama admits that he doesn't know all the facts. So how can he be so sure that the "Cambridge police acted stupidly"? Obviously, he's not giving the police any benefit of the doubt.
In fact, Obama chose to criticize law enforcement across-the-board. I don't know if making such a general statement of condemnation helps bridge the divides between police and the citizens in the communities they serve.
I think Obama sent out the wrong message -- very counterproductive, very divisive.
NATICK, Mass. (AP) -- A white police sergeant who arrested renowned black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his home says he followed procedure and is disappointed by the national debate triggered by the incident, which has drawn criticism from the president on down to local sports radio hosts.
Gates has demanded an apology from Sgt. James Crowley, who had responded to the home near Harvard University last week to investigate a report of a burglary and demanded the scholar show him identification. Police say Gates at first refused and then accused the officer of racism.
Gates said Crowley walked into his home without his permission and only arrested him as the professor followed him to the porch, repeatedly demanding the sergeant's name and badge number because he was unhappy over his treatment.
Crowley said Wednesday that he won't apologize. The charge of disorderly conduct against Gates was dropped Tuesday.
President Barack Obama, during a prime-time news conference Wednesday, said he didn't know what role race played in the incident but added that police in Cambridge, a city outside Boston, "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates even after he offered proof that he was in his own home.
He said federal officials need to continue working with local law enforcement "to improve policing techniques so that we're eliminating potential bias."
I think it's out of line for Obama to condemn Sgt. Crowley and side with Gates without knowing the complete story.
The charges of disorderly conduct were dropped but that may be because Gates played the race card. It may be that dropping the charges was determined to be the best way to handle the matter, to end it.
Of course, that didn't put an end to the discussion.
Crowley said he's grateful he has the support of his police force. He said he's not worried about any possible disciplinary action.
"There will be no apology," he said outside his home Wednesday.
It sounds like Crowley is quite confident that he performed his duties appropriately.
...Gov. Deval Patrick, who is black, said he was troubled and upset over the incident. Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons, who also is black, has said she spoke with Gates and apologized on behalf of the city, and a statement from the city called the July 16 incident "regrettable and unfortunate."
Gates said he was "outraged" by the arrest.
"This isn't about me; this is about the vulnerability of black men in America," Gates said.
He said the incident made him realize how vulnerable poor people and minorities are "to capricious forces like a rogue policeman, and this man clearly was a rogue policeman."
Police supporters charge that Gates, director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, was responsible for his own arrest by overreacting.
Both Obama and Gates say, "This isn't about me." Interesting.
This is a "he said, he said" thing.
I can't assume that Gates overreacted. I can't assume that Crowley overreacted. I won't pass judgment.
However, I can say with certainty that Obama, even after admitting that he didn't know the facts, gave an inappropriate response. He's not remaining neutral. He is definitely not supporting the police. He's siding with Gates.
Obama was confident enough to call out the Cambridge police for acting stupidly.
Should the president of the United States assume that Crowley was in the wrong just because of that "long history" of discrimination in this country? Is that being fair to Crowley?
In effect, Obama called Crowley a bad police officer. He called him a racist.
He told the world.
That was wrong of him to do, though completely in character for Obama.
Rather than remaining neutral, as he should have done since he doesn't know all the details of the matter, Obama saw an opportunity to score political points. He grabbed it like the opportunist that he is.
That answer was all about Obama. He's a politician first and foremost, not a leader.
He's definitely not post-racial.
Bottom line: Obama is a divider, not a uniter.
"This isn't about me."
Here's the full video of the news conference.
Notice, Obama didn't use his usual two teleprompters. He used the giant one, located at the back of the room and centered at the podium.
UPDATE: The Police Report
I think Obama might want to "clarify" his remarks on the Cambridge police acting stupidly.
Gibbs: Obama Didn't Call Police Officer 'Stupid'
Obama Acting Stupidly, Crowley May Sue
Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Martha's Vineyard
Obama and Crowley: Apology? (Video)