Saturday, September 05, 2009


By T.P.Sreenivasan

It was the twitter culture that did Obama in. He decided to
encapsulate the race issue and its solution in less than 140
characters. In the Gates case, the police behaved stupidly, he said,
without realising he shared his skin colour with the victim and the
police sergeant in question had another skin pigment. Hell broke loose
in no time and expression of regret over wrong choice of words was not
sufficient to put out the fire.

Obama is nothing, if not innovative. “We can!” he said again. Inviting
Gates and Crowley for a lunch or dinner in the White House would have
been overkill and so he hit upon a beer on the White House lawns, rain
or shine. Beer can put out any fire; spirit would have only fanned it
further. Boston has a Beer Summit every April and Gates and Crowley
should welcome a real summit with the chief himself and everything
would be forgotten and forgiven, thought the strategist President.

But the cure turned out to be worse than the disease. The three could
not agree even on the brand of the beer. San Miguel, the Boston beer
should have been the obvious choice, but there was no consensus and
red, blue and light were brought in. Then came the question of racial
balance at the summit and the President brought in his deputy more for
his colour than for his wisdom. There was no time to get his choice of
beer and so he ended up drinking the Boston beer that was originally
stocked for the occasion. In any case, as the only one not a party to
the dispute, Biden had to remain sober to keep the balance.

The setting was perfect, the brew was right and the racial balance was
intact. Then came the hard job to establish as to who behaved
stupidly. Was it Gates, who protested when he was accosted inside his
house by a policeman, who proceeded to handcuff him? Was it Crowley,
who thought he found a misfit in an aristocratic neighbourhood and
proceeded to treat the good professor as a criminal? Gates’ ID showed
that he was a Professor at Harvard, but how could he be sure that he
did not break into homes in his spare time? Why was it that an
institution like Harvard did not show the address of the Professor on
his ID? Or was it the President, who thought that, with his election
as President, there was no more racial prejudice in the United States?

Not even Biden could resolve the issue. No champagne was brought in at
the end of the summit to celebrate the grand reconciliation. Cameras
and recorders were kept away, but it did not take much effort for the
reporters to know that beer did not resolve years of racial prejudice.
No amount of beer could wash away the dirt accumulated over the years
in the minds of men. Gates and Crowley were seen mumbling things to
themselves as they left the White House lawns. Biden complimented his
boss for his wisdom and foresight in organising the event. Obama
shrugged it away. But he tried, didn’t he?
Obama has learnt his lesson. One swallow does not make a summer. One
African American President cannot heal all wounds. His “stupidity”
comment was honest, but honesty does not pay. Gates will, in future,
take special care of his key and will not give reason for his
suspicious neighbour to call 911 to report a break in. Crowley will
not change, because most criminals he comes across in his daily work
is of a particular colour. His only choice is to leave the police
force and sell beer to the White House for future summits, which
should be a growing industry, considering that racial prejudice is
still alive and well. Even the US Government tends to deploy more
African Americans at places, where the law is likely to be broken, be
it parking lots or customs barriers.

The beer summit brought a bonanza to journalists. “Brewhaha” was my
favourite, but “Coalition of the Swilling” “Ale to the Chief” and “The
cop, the Professor and the President: It All Comes to a Head” were
also good. Someone said that Gates should have tried to climb over the
White House wall to get to the lawn for the beer summit!

Another beer story should be a good tail-piece. An Australian lady
diplomat offered her resignation after five years in the service. When
asked why, she said: “When I joined the service, I was promised
champagne and proposals all the way. But in the last five years, I
have not seen anything but beer and propositions.”

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