E.J. Dionne, Jr. on the problem with “teachable moments”:
Since everybody seems to turn autobiographical during these “teachable moments,” I will exercise my right to do so, too. From the time I was in college in the late 1960s and early ’70s, I have been incensed at the elitism so often shown by privileged liberals toward the white working class. And I felt this as someone on the left.
I wrote a doctoral dissertation inspired by that concern, and the current controversy led me down memory lane, through college newspaper archives, to see if my recollection of my earlier views matched reality. For what it’s worth, here’s what I wrote in 1973, the year I graduated from college:
“What is most disturbing about conservative attacks on the student left is that many of the charges were right on the mark. The student left often did come to be characterized by its own forms of elitism and intellectual arrogance. …
“Even more pernicious and divisive were race issues. It is clear, of course, that black demands for political and economic equality are justified … (but) the way these issues developed … served to estrange the working class white from the movement for equality. White workers rebelled because they felt they were being forced to pay an inequitable share of the costs of equality. … Sadly, whites who protested against being singled out were too often attacked as racists. … In the end, the losers were those who had the greatest stake in social reform — white workers, blacks and the student left.”
I risk the indulgence of quoting my younger self to suggest that we have been watching this same game for too long. It’s a game that always turns out badly for those seeking equality and social reform. At the time he was asked to comment on Gates, Obama was trying to make the case for universal health coverage — for the largest step toward greater social justice since civil rights and Medicare — and it took only the single word “stupidly” to send everyone scurrying back to that “infinite regress of score-settling.”
Sgt. Crowley should not have arrested Gates, as the police implicitly acknowledged by dropping the charges. But Gates knows that this police officer with a good record is not the enemy. Let’s end the score-settling right now.