- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 22, 2010

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

 “Teachable moments” can be good, but only if the class is listening. It helps if there’s a teacher on hand to exploit the moment.

But sometimes the teacher needs remedial help himself. Like this week, when Barack Obama, the presiding pedant, first ordered Shirley Sherrod fired for something he thought she said, then ordered her hired back after he listened to what she actually said. She got a presidential apology, but there was no invitation to drop in at the White House for a beer. Sorry, Shirley, but this Bud’s just not for you.

The president and his men (and women) more and more resemble the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Mrs. Sherrod’s sin, and maybe her crime as well, was to tell a meeting of the NAACP how she, as a counselor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, used to be a racist, but isn’t now, and she regrets very much having been tempted in the bad old days to withhold her best effort from a farmer just because he was white.

This could have been that rare “teachable moment.” Even Robert Gibbs, the president’s press secretary, said so, though it’s not exactly clear who he thinks has the most to learn from it. He agreed the moment was teachable, “but I don’t think, I don’t, uh, think, I don’t, uh, think - I don’t know who, ah, the teacher is. I, uh, don’t think, I don’t think the teacher is necessarily the president.”

The president has already fumbled several teachable moments. First, there was the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the spiritual adviser of Mr. Obama over two decades. When the preacher’s crackpottery, his racist sermons, were revealed in mid-campaign Mr. Obama first said he couldn’t throw his pastor under the bus, and then under the bus the passionate prelate went. Perhaps those were two teachable moments. Along came professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard, who was questioned by a cop (white) after neighbors complained that someone was trying to break into the Gates house on a quiet street off the Harvard campus. The “housebreaker” was Mr. Gates himself, who had lost the key to his front door. Instead of saying thanks to the cop for looking out for his property, the professor raised the cry of racism, and the president called the cop stupid. After apologies all around, the president invited both men to the White House for the brew that Mrs. Sherrod apparently won’t get.

This is the best teachable moment, because the time is right for calling the class to order. Racism is still real in America (and indeed everywhere in the world, except maybe Iceland), but blaming “racism” for every angry word, unfair parking ticket or stubbing your toe on your way to the bathroom in the wee dark hours deprives the word of its true meaning and shocking power. This is what the right teacher could teach the class, and who better to teach than the president of the United States?

The exposure of Mrs. Sherrod’s remarks to the NAACP were particularly sensitive because they followed the NAACP’s resolution to censure Tea Party activists for “racism.” The NAACP’s real beef with the Tea Party is over economic and welfare issues, taxes and runaway spending, but arguing over such issues is not as much fun as calling someone stupid, a Communist, a Nazi, a fascist or a racist. The accusation is sensational enough; no evidence is required. Only this week, Reuters, the British news agency, reported as fact: “Images such as Obama with a bone through his nose and the White House with a lawn full of watermelons are often displayed at Tea Party rallies.” Often displayed? No one has reported seeing that at a Tea Party rally, ever.

There will always be someone to make the racial insult, to call a black man a [n-word]; a Jew, a kike; an Arab, a raghead; a Southerner, a redneck. But the oafs and bumpkins have at last been pushed to the margins. No nation in history has turned itself inside out and upside down to make amends for sins of the past like the United States of America. Americans did it not for praise or thanks, but because it was the right thing to do. Virtue, especially late virtue, is its own liberating reward. This was what Shirley Sherrod was trying to tell the NAACP. This is what the brave right teacher could tell the class.

*Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.