Thursday, July 23, 2009

Obama and Boston’s Finest

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 7/ 23/09

“I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts what role race played,” President Obama said at a White House press conference. “But I think it's fair to say. . .” that the Cambridge police “acted stupidly.”

Those two sentences make sense neither legally nor logically. If he had not seen all the facts, he could not have come to any sensible conclusions as to how the police officer acted.

I do however think it is fair to say, looking at these two sentences, that Obama responded to the situation archetypal rather than professionally or humanly. That is, he saw the cop as a stereotype – an autonomous form which resides in his mind and responds uninhibited by judgment through innate psychological constitution or conditioned reflex. That is, he is predisposed to see “cops” instinctively as “objects” - generally stupid and uninformed “forms” and is conditioned to those positions before he approaches the facts in the case. This is undergraduate stuff. It would not make for a good lawyer. And I think it is fair to say that this conditioned reflex must carry on to other authority figures and purely archetypal figures like fire fighters, military officers and judges.

The President responded to this incident much as cops responded to events at a time here in New England when if you were too stupid to get a job on the floor of the factory you could be a cop or a prize fighter. What the President said about cops yesterday recalls what comedian Lenny Bruce said about Irish cops 50 years ago (and when I was a kid I had 40 Irish cousins and uncles in the Massachusetts police force with all the same last name in that period). That in looking for a suspicious person, the Irish cop follows his natural instincts and “ . . . a suspicious person to an Irish cop is a Polak.”

Unfortunately, the President sees today with those same eyes of caricature and prejudice. Which is not really surprising because in so many ways he seems to be still living in the Fifties. As he has suggested so often, he is his mother’s child in that regard.