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Why are we still talking about Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley? Because of a single question asked in a press conference last Wednesday.
People may harbor differing opinions on the story of the black Harvard professor who got arrested by a white police officer, but there's one thing we all can agree on: the Chicago Sun-Times reporter who asked President Obama about the incident in his press conference last week should probably be run out of town on a rail.
After all, if she hadn't asked the question, the president wouldn't have had to answer it, and he wouldn't have said that the Cambridge police department had "acted stupidly." Then he wouldn't have had to defend and then "clarify" those remarks. Instead, we could all be debating some other question he answered imperfectly in that press conference.
Lynn Sweet, the reporter in question, is the same person who really zoned in on the important issues in Obama's first press conference as president-elect: what kind of dog he'd be getting once he moved into the White House.
So you can see that Sweet has a history of asking the hard questions. And President Obama has a history of answering those questions in an awkward, racially charged way. For example, what did he mean when he said he wanted a dog that was "a mutt, like me"? To say nothing of the "acted stupidly" remark.
The nation spent the second half of last week locked in a tired, circular, go-nowhere argument about racism and political correctness when we could have been debating one of the most urgent moral questions of our times: whether or not the wealthiest nation in the world can continue to allow millions of its citizens to lose their homes, their life savings, and sometimes even their lives due to lack of adequate health insurance.
But that's a complicated policy issue that requires research, careful thought and the acknowledgment that no solution will be perfect for everyone. Far easier to yell at each other about how much (if at all) a person should be allowed to sass off at cops.
And who's to blame for lowering the tone of debate? Nobody but Lynn Sweet.
The rest of us are innocent as babes.