It would be ironic–and tragic–if Barack Obama’s momentary lapse into frankness on the Henry Louis Gates-James Crowley episode ended up costing the nation meaningful reform of the health insurance/access system. But that looks more and more as if it could end up being the case.
Remember, Obama’s comment–that the Cambridge police behaved “stupidly” in arresting Gates–came at the very end of a press conference in which he had tried to counter the worst of the Republican distortions about the effort to legislate reform. Particularly effective, I thought, was his assertion that the status quo, if it were dressed up as a legislative proposal to be voted on by Congress and polled on by the public, would have prohibitive negatives.
But none of that effort counted after the president’s Gates-Crowley-racial profiling remarks. All the focus the next day was on the fact that the first black president had responded like…well, like a black man. I wonder if Obama’s reaction stemmed from a personal experience during his high school or college or law school years, or whether he became familiar with the black man-confronting-cops phenomenon during his time as a community organizer in Chicago or, perhaps, while he was practicing civil rights law.
Whatever the source, Obama’s inability to stifle his true feelings has been costly in terms of public support. The latest poll from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed wide disapproval of Obama’s remark and a sharp loss of support for the president among whites, specifically as a result of the Gates-Crowley controversy. The truth is, Obama has been “on probation” with a substantial number of whites, who were willing to take a chance on and tolerate him as long as he didn’t act black. When he violated that condition with his remarks on Gates-Crowley, those people yanked his probation. Everything’s going to be tougher from now on.
Nothing amazes me more than the ability of the GOP to continually sell the American people on the notion that anything run by the government is going to be a disaster. Millions of elderly Americans live in relative decency because of Social Security and don’t die on the streets because of Medicare. Every year, millions of Americans ride over the best-maintained public highways in the world to national parks operated by government employees and thank God for the privilege. And I could go on. Meanwhile, I am wrestling for the second time in two years with a giant private human resources outfit–call it All Thumbs, Inc.–to try to collect the pension they administer on behalf of a previous employer.
The fact is that Obama was going to need every ounce of public support he could muster to achieve even modest health care reform. The sad fact is that the Gates-Crowley distraction has deprived him of a measurable degree of support. I hope the nation doesn’t pay the price in the form of a lost opportunity at health care reform.