Victor Davis Hanson

The president of the United States has it hard enough without needlessly wading into, and fanning, local controversies. The economy is battered by sluggish growth, high unemployment, record annual deficits and near unsustainable national debt. Over 50 percent of the people now disapprove of Barack Obama's handling of these problems.

So why weigh in on hot-button issues that can only polarize people without solving anything?

Last summer, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, a scholar of African-American literature and history, got into a silly dispute with a local policeman. For some reason, President Obama, the leader of the free world, rushed to judgment and gratuitously announced that police Sgt. James Crowley and the local Cambridge, Mass., police had acted "stupidly." For relish, he added that police wrongly stereotype in general. Obama supporters wrote off the entire psycho-drama as a "teachable moment."

Arizona recently passed a bill designed to enforce existing immigration law and stop the enormous influx of illegal aliens into the state. Various groups, including the federal government, quickly made plans to sue the state. Yet various polls indicated that 70 percent of Americans agreed with the Arizona law, and dozens of states were planning similar legislation.

Nonetheless, the president also jumped into that acrimony -- well before the law went into effect. Obama and his attorney general alleged that Arizonans were promoting stereotyping, even though police were forbidden to question the immigration status of those who had not come into prior contact with law enforcement.

Most recently, Obama pontificated about the proposed mosque next to Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, in what his supporters might call a "teachable moment." The issue is not a legal one. Both sides recognize the legal right of Muslims to build mosques anywhere that local zoning ordinances permit them. Instead, the controversy pertains to common decency, and the nature of the funding and proponents of the project.

No matter: The president instead lectured his mostly Muslim audience that America respects the rights of all religions -- again, not the issue in question. A day later, in embarrassment, he backtracked a bit.

Where to start with all these teachable moments?

All these controversies involve issues addressed at the state and local level, with presidential action unnecessary. In such contentious matters, why intervene when Obama cannot do much other than polarize millions?


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.