The Henry Louis Gates Jr./Cambridge police flap is most significant for what it tells us about President Barack Obama, his approach to the presidency, and his general attitude, including on matters of race.
In his July 22 news conference on health care, one member of the media asked Obama, "What does (the Gates arrest) incident say to you, and what does it say about race relations in America?"
Without hesitation, Obama launched into what appeared to be a pre-considered response. Had he been caught off guard by the question, we might assume he would hesitate -- at least briefly -- and then decline to inject himself into the matter.
We should expect Obama, of all people, given his reputation for coolness and sagacity, to act presidentially, not only in measuring his thoughts before speaking but also in declining to comment on local matters beyond his duties and about which he doesn't have all the facts.
But Obama's attitude toward the presidency is not particularly aligned with what our constitutional Framers had in mind. He obviously believes it is his prerogative to micromanage any and every aspect of American life, from the catastrophic to the mundane.
He's displayed this attitude in town hall meetings, where he has given advice to attendees concerning their specific problems, as if it were his place to make personal house calls on matters ranging from people's health care problems to their mortgages. All of this is consistent with Obama's perception of government's cradle-to-grave caretaker role and his effort to cultivate a dependency mindset in Americans.
But in this case, Obama decided to weigh in, even after admitting that "Skip" Gates is his "friend," that he "may be a little biased here," and that he didn't "know all the facts." We know he made this decision with premeditation, because White House press secretary Robert Gibbs admitted they had anticipated and prepared for the question.
Obama recited a Gates-slanted version of the events, suggesting that Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley arrested Gates for disorderly conduct after Gates, inside his home, showed Crowley his ID. Obama pointedly added that the charges were "later dropped."