A retired CIA gentleman and I were recently commiserating about what we perceived as a lack of leadership in America.
While there is no shortage of anecdotes to illustrate the point, few are more telling or timely than the arrest of Professor Henry Gates at his house in Cambridge, Mass., incident to a suspicious person call.
Setting off a national debate on racial profiling, abuse of power, and the many permutations of civilian idiocy, the episode came to a head with President Obama's characterization of the arresting agency's actions as "stupid."
Officers across the color spectrum quickly registered their disfavor with Obama's ill-considered flippancy, and in a desperate bid for damage control our Commander in Chief hosted a Beer Summit at the White House.
Meeting at Potsdam, it wasn't.
As a phalanx of photojournalists and frustrated lip readers monitored telephoto lenses, Obama, VP Joe Biden, Gates, and Sgt. James Crowley took seats about a small table on the White House lawn and ate some beer nuts, lifted a toast, smiled tightly, then called it a day.
Of the post-summit interviews, only Sgt. Crowley came off looking good in much the way Tom Selleck did after Rosie O'Donnell went psycho on his ass, too: Polished. Professional. A class act.
But outside of Gates' "I'll talk with your mama outside!" and Obama's "The Cambridge police acted stupidly," I couldn't help but note how many couched sentiments there were throughout this mess. No apologies tendered, no promises for greater compliance in the future, no appreciations for amnesties granted.
Meanwhile, others at the periphery who got sucked into the vortex not only did not make Obama's Docktoberfest, but are still dealing with aggravations because of the incident.
These include Lucia Whalen, the woman who called the Cambridge Police Department in the first place. Despite never mentioning race, she has been called a racist and received death threats.
They include Sgt. Leon Lashley, who, for defending his friend and colleague, has been defamed as an "Uncle Tom."
The two principals at the center of the controversy have joked about the possibility of going out to events together, but unless some entrepreneur puts them together on a speaking tour-which would no doubt be a money-maker-I doubt we'll be seeing the Crowley and Gates Comedy Hour anytime soon.
All of this makes me wonder why our president allowed himself to become embroiled in a matter that was categorically not of his concern in the first place.
It is undeniable that Obama has charisma-at least so long as that teleprompter's nearby. But is he a leader?
If this situation is to be viewed as any barometer, then prima facie evidence would suggest no.
Can one imagine the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, or Harry Truman, or Andrew Jackson insinuating himself into such a mess? Or, worse still, further compounding problems by hosting a beer summit and serving non-domestic brew?
Obama's "solution" smacks of the same mollifying efforts of so many nowadays. Some spoiled SOB acts the fool and then everyone's supposed to get together and play nice-nice. It is a practice popular with those who seek to placate certain minority segments, and provides the template for more of the same.
If Obama wanted to show some leadership on the matter, he would have familiarized himself with it as thoroughly as possible before deciding to comment on it. Then, should his friendship with Gates trump doing the right thing, he should have kept his mouth shut. Otherwise, he should have told Gates to grow a pair and apologize for his outburst.
As it was, Obama played the race card from the same deck that Gates had shuffled and failed to tender his own apology.
Shame on him.
Politically Correct Conditioning
Perhaps the root of the problem lies elsewhere. Maybe it's that we have been programmed not to address problems decisively. That whole template thing I mentioned.
If I'm onto something here-and I think I am-that template can be referred to as politically correct conditioning.
A little research shows that the term "politically correct" (P.C.) has been around since the first World War. In recent decades, it has become a collective catch-all for those attempts to insulate some people from harm by remediating others of their perceived deficiencies. Such efforts often entail sensitivity training, discipline, and termination of employment.
In trying to eradicate what has occasionally been hardwired into our DNA or acquired through one's training and experience, any pretense of surgical precision has largely been abandoned in favor of a butcher's finesse: You WILL stop on a dime and do an ideological one-eighty.
P.C.'s messengers are often loud, strident, and seemingly rampant in government. But wherever found and whoever its practitioner, there are commonalities throughout its employ.
P.C. dogma seeks to prevent any imaginable harm at the expense of candor and objectivity.
P.C. practitioners see no inconsistency in broadstroking one group while in ostensible support of another.
P.C. spin doctors discriminate between causes and groups as to what is politically fashionable to support. This accounts for why murderers like Mumia Abu-Jamal and Troy Davis get support from celebrities and special interest groups while justice for the fallen officers and their loved ones are perniciously ignored.
P.C. advocates seek to redistribute self worth at the expense of those who've earned it.
P.C. adherents deny others the opportunity for maturation through overcoming adversarial opinions.
Political correctness is often at cross-purposes with itself. It supports art like "Piss Christ" and Robert Mapplethorpe's work while expressing shock at a beefcake photo in the workplace.
As such, P.C. inhibits and destroys the advancement of character through the trial and error of genuine social intercourse. In its wake, we've seen literary deconstructionists, revisionist historians, and role reversals; been witness to the black-balled, the bitch-slapped, the suspended, the terminated, the exiled, and the emasculated.
It is hardly surprising that in an era where an honest expression of dissent is subject to opprobrium and its perpetrator given to reprisal that tendering a candid opinion can be deemed an act of courage.
Given the omnipresent litmus challenge of making inoffensive decisions, is it any wonder that less than 10 Medals of Honor have been awarded given the number of heroic lives lost during the course of our campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Regardless of one's stand on these conflicts, I would think that--outside of what-the-hell-are-we-doing-here-back-to-the-wall-bravery seen at Little Big Horn--America can recognize the bravery displayed by its own. Certainly, history's antagonists have accorded one another that much respect.
But then, closer to home, all we have to do is look at the number of officers who have been told that they were going to win their department's medal of valor only to find by the same person that the awards were to be rescinded for fear of alienating segments of the population that would align themselves with the fallen.
Political correctness is why many patrol officers have been inhibited from doing their jobs for fear of being accused of racism and profiling. How many lives of black youths lost during the epochal levels of the late '80s might have been saved by making more assertive contacts during that period of time? How many might be saved now, were it not for a cop whose investigative intuitions are kept in check for fear of finding himself under investigation and his promotion or transfer delayed?
None of these observations are particularly revelatory, but they are listed in black and white as concrete expressions of what many of us intuitively have come to recognize. More importantly, they point as to how a man such as Barack Obama could first ascend to the highest office in the country and then diminish its reputation thereafter.
Obama's own courtly overtures of political correctness to those who hate us are being read as weaknesses, emboldening others to encroach on America's interests. Nuclear subs in international waters, North Koreans successfully ransoming journalists, Iran capturing three American "spies"...
Much has been made of the educational opportunities afforded by the Gates incident. But if the incident teaches us anything, it is that there may be such a thing as an objective truth, and it's high time to acknowledge such. It also shows, once again for the umpteenth time ad infinitum, just how conditioned we have become to tolerating acts of idiocy, both by the initial perpetrator and by those that would support them.
If I've pissed you off, let me know.
Maybe we can discuss it over a beer.