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.