… is that of the inimitable Steve Teles.
For what it’s worth, however, my take is that this little micro-dispute in Cambridge was fundamentally a conflict about “honor.” This whole thing would have been a big nothing if either man were willing to swallow his pride. The cop could have defused it by letting Gates call him a racist and have it roll off his back. He couldn’t because, I think, he has a self-conception as precisely not a racist cop (given that he does racial profiling seminars). To back down would have been to accept what Gates was accusing him of—to be dishonored. Gates couldn’t back down and say “yes, officer, whatever you ask, officer” because he believed he was being treated in a way that was inappropriate to his status as a Harvard professor and because he thought he was being hassled because he was black. To back down would have been untrue to his idea of himself—as a race man and a part of America’s elite. Again, he would have accepted being dishonored. So they both stood their ground, and the guy with the gun won.
And so Gates retaliates in the media, and with the president—where HE was, in effect, holding the gun. Now the Cambridge cops think that they are being dishonored, because they believe that they run a comparatively professional police force that tries to treat black and white citizens fairly (“we’re not like LA!”), especially compared to what was the case in the past. To accept what Gates and the president said would have been to swallow being dishonored—to accept that what they believed about themselves was not the case. So they opened up on the president and Gates in this press conference.
The question is, is there any way for everyone involved here to retain their honor?
In Teles’s view, Obama “messed up” by not, in classic Obama fashion, attempting to explain both sides to each other.
There is another sensible take, actually — from an NYPD officer and philosophy grad student Brandon del Pozo.