DABBLING IN POPULISM.

Conor Friedersdorf dabbles in a little populism on behalf of the black incarcerated:

Thus six months into his tenure, President Obama offered his most prominent statement on race and criminal justice on behalf of a wealthy Ivy League buddy. Were that all, the president might have avoided burnishing his reputation for elitism. Last week, I defended him against that charge, noting that he was asked about the Gates incident. Notably "stupid" is his deliberately prolonging the controversy—beyond even a second press conference—for a round of beers and several more news cycles.

[...]

There are literally hundreds of cases where innocent, disproportionally black prisoners would benefit from a presidential mention, never mind two press conferences and a happy hour. Admittedly, most would prove more politically fraught than defending an elderly Ivory Tower star: wrongly arrest and release a black man who happens to be a Harvard professor and the national press corps writes searching pieces on race in America; wrongly imprison for years on end a black man who happens to be working class and without celebrity, and the national press corps continues to mostly ignore a criminal justice system that routinely convicts innocent people.

Gates isn't being invited to the White House because he's black and Ivy League. Gates is being invited to the White House because Sgt. James Crowley has become the latest totem of burgeoning white resentment against the president, which happens to be a matter so urgent that Obama felt obligated to make a dramatic gesture of reconciliation -- lest racial resentment swallow his presidency. This is not an example of black class privilege. This is an example of white privilege -- and how even a country that elects a black man president still demands that he assuage feelings of white resentment when they grow strong enough. Totems of black resentment, which Gates is not, get called racists and race hustlers. They do not get invited to the White House. They get denounced by black candidates in presidential debates in order to prove to white people everywhere that they have no sway over him. Totems of white resentment? They get interviews with the vice president.

I guess the most irritating irony is Friedersdorf criticizes Obama for not bringing this up before Gates, but I don't remember him bringing this up before Gates. Glenn Loury can get angry at Gates for coming late to this issue, because he's written a great deal about how ostensibly "color-blind" corrections policies look like Jim Crow. Here, Friedersdorf does his best impression of a campus liberal, telling everyone what they should think about an issue he discovered last week. Hopefully he'll still care when the cable chatter and link traffic dies down.

-- A. Serwer

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