As usual, Kulturkampf gets us nowhere

The Henry Louis Gates contretemps last week was a classic case of the kind of thing I studiously ignore — the kind of thing that ideological partisans love to shout at each other about, and which make it all that much harder to constructively discuss subjects that really matter.

But I will pass on this column on the subject in the WSJ, which I thought was good. Of course, I thought it was good; its point is the same one I just made — that this was a destructive distraction. Headlined, “The Gates of Political Distraction: Obama’s mistake was falling for a culture war diversion,” it is written by the Journal‘s iconoclastic house liberal, Thomas Frank. An excerpt:

Liberals, by and large, immediately plugged the event into their unfair-racial-profiling template, and proceeded to call for blacks and whites to “listen to each other’s narratives” and other such anodyne niceties even after it started to seem that police racism was probably not what caused the incident.

Conservatives, meanwhile, were following their own “narrative,” the one in which racism is often exaggerated and the real victim is the unassuming common man scorned by the deference-demanding “liberal elite.” Commentators on the right zeroed in on the fact that Mr. Gates is an “Ivy League big shot,” a “limousine liberal,” and a star professor at Harvard, an institution they regard with special loathing. They pointed out that Mr. Gates allegedly addressed the cop with that deathless snob phrase, “you don’t know who you’re messing with”; they reminded us that Cambridge, Mass., is home to a particularly obnoxious combination of left-wing orthodoxy and upper-class entitlement; and they boiled over Mr. Gates’s demand that the officer “beg my forgiveness.”

“Don’t you just love a rich guy who summers on the Vineyard asking a working-class cop to ‘beg’? How perfectly Cambridge,” wrote the right-wing radio talker Michael Graham in the Boston Herald.

Conservatives won this round in the culture wars, not merely because most of the facts broke their way, but because their grievance is one that a certain species of liberal never seems to grasp. Whether the issue is abortion, evolution or recycling, these liberal patricians are forever astonished to discover that the professions and institutions and attitudes that they revere are seen by others as arrogance and affectation.

Frank got that right.

Indeed, the very idea that the president would waste political capital on this at a time when the country needs him to be strong on health care reform is obscene, and a tragic waste.

38 thoughts on “As usual, Kulturkampf gets us nowhere

  1. Brad Warthen

    Frank correctly alludes to the condescension inherent in the president asking Gates and the cop over for a beer. It’s like, “Cops are blue collar. Those blue-collar fellows LIKE beer, don’t they?…”

    Poor Barack Obama. I’ve always liked the guy, but I’ve always been amused at his clumsiness on the whole “having a beer with the guys” thing. It did him in in Pennsylvania, where Hillary Clinton, of all people, out-Regular Guyed him. He raised a brewski, and she trumped him with a boilermaker…

  2. Lee Muller

    How long is it going to take for you to realize that Obama is not half as smart as he thinks he is?

    Henry Gates is just another of Obama’s racial victimhood pals, another Jeremiah Wright, preaching hate in a classroom instead of a tax shelter posing as a church.

    SGT Crowley should refuse to have any contact with Obama or Gates until AFTER they both issue what looks like a genuine apology. The problem is, they can’t apologize sincerely because they aren’t sorry for their racism.

    The news media jumped right on this racial angle, and stepped in it. They even spread false information which made the 911 caller sound racist, and brought threats to her life.

  3. kbfenner

    “Most of the facts broke their way”? If you have ignored the story, how can you know whether WSj is accurate or merely reinforces your pre-existing prejudices?

    Gates was in his own house, showed ID to attest to that fact, and exercised his free speech rights. “Sticks and stones” applies to cops, I’m afraid.

    Gates was guilty of poor manners. The cop way over-reacted, as evidenced by the failure to charge Gates.

  4. Burl Burlingame

    There’s only one lesson here, no matter who you are. Don’t yell at policemen. They don’t like that.

  5. Lee Muller

    Mrs. Fenner,
    You have the facts all wrong. You should try reading the police report, and listening to the 911 call tapes.

    1. Mr. Gates started screaming at the police officers at their first question, through the locked door, which he initially refused to open.

    2. Mr. Gates at first refused to identify himself, then called the Harvard campus police, demanding to speak to the chief.

    3. Mr. Gates presented a Harvard University ID badge, which had no address or other information on it. The Harvard Police were already responding to the scene, because this was University rental property, not Mr. Gates’ property, and he had at that point offered no evidence of where he lived or what he was doing in Harvard University property, which he and another man broke into and entered.

    4. The Cambridge Police officers went outside to wait for the Harvard police. Mr. Gates followed them into the yard, and apparently onto the city right of way for the sidewalk, which extends into the yard, just as it does in Columbia.

    5. The Harvard Police seemed fine with the arrest.

    Gates has made a career of victimhood. You might want to listen to his other angry outbursts and insults to whites, including white faculty.

  6. Brad Warthen

    Always be polite to cops. Always. Not just because it’s smart — they have considerable discretion in such situations — but because, as people who put their lives on the line for the rule of law, they deserve it.

  7. martin

    One thing has amazed me listening to black pundits on cable news these days. Many have complained about having to teach their children to say “yes, sir” and “no, sir” and to be polite to cops because they are black.
    I’m 57 years old and white. My mama taught me that about the time I was getting my DL learner’s permit in the mid-60s.
    This brings to mind the words of a song – “paranoia strikes deep and into your heart it will creep”. This is what discrimination has done and it has created a lack of understanding by some black people of when they are NOT being treated differently from someone of another color in the same situation. This is part of the “race” converstaion that we need to be having.
    About cops. I had a job for a number of years where I frequently had to make home visits accompanied by cops. On day I was knocking on a front door and noticed that the cop who I had walked up to the house with had moved off to the side. As we were waiting for someone to answer the door, I asked what he was doing. He politely told me that if they came out shooting, he wouldn’t be in the line of fire. We joked that would leave only me in the way.
    Cops have to deal with the possibility that anyone they come into contact with might want to kill them. They have to be in a near constant state of stress and anxiety and if we keep calm when we deal with them, chances are, they will, too.

  8. Lee Muller

    The police reports, photos, and radio transmissions all say Henry Gates was in his front yard, as do all the newspaper articles I found in a quick search…

    Besides, it wasn’t “his front porch”. The house belonged to Harvard University. He was not cooperating in proving that he had any legal right to be there.

    It would have been so simple for him to produce a driver’s license and some mail to him at that address. The police were giving him every benefit of the doubt and being polite to him.

  9. Bart

    If President Barack Obama had used the same sense of propriety when discussing the Muslim situation in China and kept his superfluous comment out of the situation, we would not be having this conversation today.

    The President is not the Governor of Mass., nor is he the Mayor of Cambridge. If he had simply stated that without ALL the facts, it would be unwise to make any comment at all would have been the correct reaction. He did not need to inject the words, “acted stupidly” into his response.

    If Professor Gates had simply answered the door, produced identification when requested and asked why they were there and left it alone, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

    If the cop had been abusive, obtuse, or disrespectful, Professor Gates would have had a legitimate reason to file a grievance.

    The entire burden of the aftermath belongs to one Barack Obama, no one else.

  10. Randy E

    Brad, this issue is simply a reflection of much bigger issues than mere politics.

    I think Gates acted like an ass. It’s fine to make this point but to ignore the unwarranted arrest and focus on Gates’ actions misses the much bigger point of the arrest.

    Maude makes an important point. Gates never left his porch so in effect he was arrested for yelling in his own house. I’m amused at how the conservatives are so quick to dispense with their anti-big government posturing to support a government official arresting a man without cause. If this happened to a white conservative professor in SC, the tea baggers and Limbaugh would have a cow. Why? Because they’d be defending the Constitution and individual rights in the face of tyranny.

    It is not against the law to be an ass or to not be nice to the police.

    In regards to Obama, he shared in his book that he had experienced racial profiling. Colin Powell shared that this has happened to him repeatedly. Gates grew up as a second class citizen and deals with the race issue, which is still widely present. It’s no surprise that this is more of an issue for a man of color than a collecton of middle class white men commenting on a blog.

  11. bud

    Brad, you disappoint me greatly with this one. You want us to believe you to be a non-partisan and then you post this crap from the ultraconservative Wallstreet Journal:

    “Conservatives won this round in the culture wars, not merely because most of the facts broke their way, but because their grievance is one that a certain species of liberal never seems to grasp. Whether the issue is abortion, evolution or recycling, these liberal patricians are forever astonished to discover that the professions and institutions and attitudes that they revere are seen by others as arrogance and affectation.”

    Ok, lets go through this bit by bit. Only in the mind of a conservative did they “win this round”. Arresting a man on his own property for yelling really was pretty stupid. Obama should NOT have said as much at a news conference on healthcare reform but he said what he thought and he has a defensible point.

    Most of the facts broke the conservatives way. Bull! How can you even defend that nonsense. The man was arrested in his own home and handcuffed for committing absolutley no crime. The fact that the charges were dismissed is proof positive that no crime was committed.

    Then we have this lecture about arrogance over “abortion, evolution and re-cycling”. Let’s get one thing straight here. Folks on both extremes in the abortion debate clearly have nothing but contempt for the other side. That’s just as true for pro-lifers as pro-choicers. To suggest ONLY pro-choicers are arrogant demonstrates a clear, partisan bias on the part of the author.

    As for evolution. Well, what can you say. It’s really wacky to suggest evolution is false while young-earth creationism is credible and that view deserves scorn and derision in the same way one would view a flat-earth believer. Young earth creationism is whacky nonsense. I won’t back down one iota on that.

    And recycling? Since when is that controversial? Who’s opposed to it? I know lots of conservatives that recycle. Yet I know of no one that considers recycling a “bad” thing. It’s like saying looking before crossing the road is liberal nonsense. That comment makes zero sense. It’s nothing but a throwaway comment to try and make some sort of point.

    So Brad if you want to convince this proud liberal that you really are a non-partisan you need to stop citing CONSERVATIVE, partisan crap like this as support for your claim. You only come across as a partisan fool. Do you really want that?

  12. Lee Muller

    Whether Mr. Gates was disturbing the peace from his rented front porch, the front yard, city property, or from inside the house, he could be arrested for it.

    There are hundreds of students Cambridge who have been arrested for loud and obnoxious behavior from their front yards, front porches and inside the house.

    There is nothing partisan about this incident or this issue, except that Barack Obama inserted himself into it by defending his radical friend, and the media trying to cover for his mistake by bashing the police and the 911 caller as racists, when they are nothing of the sort.

    The only partisans and racists in this issue are Gates, Obama, and their media shills.

  13. bud

    The charges were quickly dropped so by definition no crime was committed. To continue to argue, as Muller does, that Gates disturbed the peace is simply an act of intellectual dishonesty.

  14. Jerry

    Bud I agree that last paragraph was tripe and made it hard to take the whole article seriously. Recently I saw Inherit the Wind again and it is hard to believe that so many people go back to the thinking of dismissing science when it conflicts with religious dogma. People need to have faith in their faith and evolve. I had no idea that recycling is some sort of anti-freedom, godless, socialist/communist (to use all of the right wing nut job buzzwords) conspiracy that good conservative Americans should avoid.

  15. Birch Barlow

    Lee, the man was arrested for disorderly conduct, not disturbing the peace.

    Can a man not be disorderly on his own property? Can a man not be angry and yell at a police officer? Is that a criminal offense?

    Sounds more like an authoritarian police-state to me.

  16. Lee Muller

    Oh, yeah, Cambridge, MA is really a “police state”. Just like Madison, Wisconsin and Berkeley, CA.

    The only oppression there is directed at those trying to practice the right to bear arms or free speech opposing socialism.

    And my example of “disturbing the peace” illustrated the fact that you can be arrested for a variety of crimes of rowdiness anywhere on your property.

    You can sometimes be disorderly on your own property, but this was not Gate’s own property. It belonged to Harvard, and he was refusing to provide complete identification so the police could determine if he, in fact, was the legal resident. It is easy to understand, if you try.

    Gates has a history of this sort of angry, racist yelling.

  17. Maude Lebowski

    Why link to a blog from Northern Mississippi to “prove” he was in the yard? The actual police report states that the officer had to climb the steps to Gates’ porch to put handcuffs on him.

    “The only partisans and racists in this issue are Gates, Obama, and their media shills.”

    And you.

    “I’m amused at how the conservatives are so quick to dispense with their anti-big government posturing to support a government official arresting a man without cause. If this happened to a white conservative professor in SC, the tea baggers and Limbaugh would have a cow.”

    I find it amusing as well.

  18. Lee Muller

    I could link to 20 more papers that say Henry Gates was arrested in his front yard. The problem you have, “Maude”, is with the facts.

    You also seem to think Mississippi newspapers cannot be trusted running an AP or Reuters story. Perhaps you harbor some bigotry towards the South.

    Four police officers arresting a rowdy man who is screaming racist remarks is not the “big government” we Real Americans dislike. It is community policing, and the arresting officer teaches classes in racial sensitivity to other officers.

    The liberal racist template for this news story backfired on them.

  19. Mike Toreno

    Brad, yet another illustration of the deficiencies that led to the failure of your career. You come to the issue, as you come to nearly every issue, with a preformed narrative, namely that there are two “sides” consisting of warring partisans, while you sit above the fray, soberly and objectively presenting a “balanced” viewpoint.

    The supposed “balance” you bring to an issue isn’t important, what’s important is the insight you bring to the issue. Your failure to bring insight to the topics on which you commented led to the failure of your career.

    The lawless police conduct that occurred in this case is tied to an issue at the heart of our democracy – does the constitution mean anything? Are the police our servants or are they our masters?

    On the face of Crowley’s report there was no justification for the arrest. The facts Crowley states do not make out a case for arrest under the statute. This is true even before taking into account that Crowley’s report was all lies. We now have the 911 tape and the police radio dispatches, the radio dispatches make it clear that Crowley’s statement that Gates was making it impossible to communicate over the radio is a lie. We know the 911 caller didn’t say anything about the race of the men entering the house, and suggested the possibility that they were lawful occupants having trouble with the door. We can see that Crowley doesn’t describe Gates’s conduct that supposedly merited arrest, he just says Gates was acting “tumultuously” without saying what he was doing. People who are telling the truth give full descriptions of events.

    We know that Crowley disobeyed the law when Gates asked for his name and badge number. An officer asked for this information is obligated to furnish an identification card which he carries; Crowley didn’t do that. Gates talking over him (which didn’t happen; that was just another of Crowley’s lies) doesn’t enter into it.

    Obviously the racist right are up in arms about Obama’s remarks, but they were going to be up in arms about everything Obama does anyway. Their motivation doesn’t have anything to do with anything Obama does or says. The birth certificate loons aren’t motivated by any real concerns about the birth certificate; they are motivated by the idea that Obama is somehow not entitled to be president.

    Obama knows a lot about unlawful police conduct and has done a lot of work on the issue. He has real insight to bring to the issue. If you want to keep from failing as a blogger the same way you failed as a journalist, you too will try to bring insight to issues on which you comment.

  20. Lee Muller

    The police report shows Crowley trying to give his name and badge number to Mr. Gates three times, but Mr. Gates talking over him each time.

    The photos show SGT Crowley’s name tag and badge number plainly visible.

    “Mike Toreno” is another example of how dishonest the modern liberals are.

    Obama has a lot of racist preconceptions about white policemen, learned from his communist mother, communist grandparents, black racist friends like Jeremiah Wright, and his terrorist pals like Bill Ayers.

  21. Maude Lebowski

    “As I descended the stairs to the sidewalk, Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him. Due to the tumultuous manner Gates had exhibited in his residence as well as his continued tumultuous behavior outside the residence, in view of the public, I warned Gates that he was becoming disorderly. Gates ignored my warning and continued to yell, which drew the attention of both the police officers and citizens, who appeared surprised and alarmed by Gates’s outburst. For a second time I warned Gates to calm down while I withdrew my department issued handcuffs from their carrying case. Gates again ignored my warning and continued to yell at me. It was at this time that I informed Gates that he was under arrest. I then stepped up the stairs, onto the porch and attempted to place handcuffs on Gates.”

    From the police report. Give it a rest.

  22. Lee Muller

    When the police warn you that you are “..becoming disorderly..”, take a clue from the legal words and cool down the racist shouting, or you are going to be arrested.

    A black policeman explained that people like Gates and Obama have “black guilt” – they don’t feel black enough, and they haven’t really suffered any real racism that has held them back, so they compensate for their guilt by becoming vocal activists, community organizers, etc.

  23. Lee Muller

    As I explained, the police were within their rights to arrest him in the street, in his rented yard, in his rented house, or on his rented porch – wherever they got him to stand still and be cuffed.

    You apologists for the racial insults made by Gates puts you in the company of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Doesn’t that make an alarm go off in your heads?

  24. Mike Toreno

    “If Professor Gates had simply answered the door, produced identification when requested and asked why they were there and left it alone, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

    Yep, Bart, if only Gates hadn’t tried to be uppity, Crowley wouldn’t have had to unlawfully arrest him and file a false police report to justify it. It’s all Gates’s fault.

  25. Mike Toreno


    1. Read the blog Lee links to; the blogger doesn’t claim to know from his own knowledge that Gates was in his yard. he’s just referring to an NYT article and taking his information from that.

    2. The porch/yard distinction that Lee is making is an imaginary one that Lee made up to support his argument.

    3. Lee is the Mayor of Crazytown. Think about whether and how you want to argue with the Mayor of Crazytown. Using his remarks as to introduce a point you want to make is one thing; trying to use facts and rational arguments to refute information whispered to him by the voice in his head is another.

  26. Maude Lebowski

    Good job getting across the point that Gates rents his home Lee. However, I don’t think that home ownership is a requirement for Constitutional protection.

  27. Bart

    Little Mikey Toreno,

    Uppity is your word, not mine. My comment was about civility, not being a jerk.

    Gates could have been the better man in this instance but he chose not to be. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

    Of course, “we know what you are implying”, don’t we?

    Get a life.

  28. Bart

    Burl, maybe Gates birth certificate is in the same hermetically sealed vault as Obama’s. Probably hidden away somewher like Jack Benny’s infamous vault in his basement.

    For one moment, in this discussion consider this simple point. Obama is an Occidental, Harvard, and Columbia educated man. He was the editor of the Harvard Review. A man of substantial opportunity and world travel. Someone who went to one of the best schools in Hawaii, lived with a doting Grandmother and an activist Grandfather.

    Gates may have been born in less than desirable surroundings but is an intelligent man and he grew out of his circumstances and went on to become one of the most respected scholars in America especially when it comes to race. Again, another man who enjoyed the benefit of a Harvard education and is now a professor at the same institution. Professor Gates has a residence in one of the more prestigious enclaves in the same area where Obama and his family have rented a summer home. Obviously, a very successful man.

    I grew up in a home where my Mom and Dad were not educated people except for the school of hard experiences. We were taught to respect everyone regardless of skin color and especially those who held positions in the academic world. My parents understood the value of an education.

    People with the priviledge afforded Gates and Obama have a distinct advantage over the rest of us and as such, why is it unreasonable to expect them to conduct themselves in a civil manner?

    Gates surely could have walked to the door when Crowley asked to come in, gave him identification, and cooperated. The reason for the call in the first place was that the residence had already been broken into and there had been burglaries in the neighborhood recently. So, the citizen who had the lady make the call did the right thing.

    When all is said and done, all sides could have played it differently and the entire incident could have been avoided.

  29. Randy E

    Bart, if you want to paint Gates as acting like an ass, fine. I think he did act like a jerk.

    Confusing sophomoric behavior with criminal activity betrays any critical analysis. It is not against the law to act as Gates did. Are you suggesting the rule of law is dependent on an officer’s judgment? My understanding is the reverse is true. The police follows rule of law.

    In case you aren’t aware. Disorderly conduct in MA involves behavior engaged “with purpose” to annoy or causes alarm to the community. A man yelling at someone in his house doesn’t come close to that threshhold.

  30. Lee Muller

    Suppose it had been a burglar in the house, who refused to identify himself, blustered, bluffed, and bullied the police into leaving?

    What would Mr. Gates have said about the police leaving his domicile to be robbed?

    We know the answer.

  31. Mike Toreno

    Bart, if you want to know how what really happened, listen to Gayle King’s interview with Gates on Oprah Radio. I found it by searching on Gayle King gates interview.

    But the fact that Crowley was lying about what happened isn’t even important. The proposition that “If the citizen had not done X, the police officer would not have falsely arrested him and filed a false police report” is a repugnant proposition, so repugnant that it doesn’t even matter whether the citizen did X or not. Crowley is not entitled to falsely arrest people or file false police reports. His position doesn’t belong to him, it belongs to the citizens, and by using it improperly, as he did in this case, he is stealing from the citizens. Whether he falsely arrested Gates because Gates asked him for his name and badge number (which is that happened), because Gates screamed at him (which didn’t happen), because Gates made remarks about his mother (which didn’t happen), none of that matters, what matters is that in falsely arresting Gates, Crowley committed a crime and disgraced his office. You may (and Brad certainly does) want to live in a society in which the police abuse their power to punish citizens for acting in ways which, while legal and within their rights, are displeasing to the police, but I don’t.

    And yeah, the citizen who had Ms. Whalen make the call did do the right thing, expecially since Ms. Whalen accurately related what was going on, namely, that the situation was somewhat unusual, that they had suitcases, and it could be a situation in which they had a problem with their key. Neither of the people involved in making the call had any notion that Crowley was going to lie about what Ms. Whalen said. It was Crowley who turned Ms. Whalen’s “two guys with suitcases maybe having trouble with the key” to “two black men with backpacks.”


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