The Compton Cookout, Healthcare, and Obama   1 comment


The healthcare debate and fallout, however one views it, has some spectacularly interesting aspects and corollaries, and I’ve noticed some parallels with the Cookout saga. Groups of protesters with their signs, chants, and demands have surrounded both, all aimed at a type of government. While the Tea Party tried to prevent the healthcare bill from being ratified, the BSU/MEChA & supporters demanded action from Chancellor Fox, but urgent and emotional protest has been common to both. All protests in question have been peaceful and civil, but that has not stopped the media from trying to portray any rallies in a more negative light.

Having attended several BSU rallies related to the “Cookout”, and seeing the media guys there, then reading their accounts of the events, I’ve acquired a sense for how reporters tend to cover protests. I suppose the people want to hear that violence and rioting occurred, even when they haven’t, and I wouldn’t trust any reports of crime or verbal assault that are not backed by video evidence. In both cases, “Cookout” and healthcare, death threats and an unspoken posturing seemingly meant to provoke violence have been present. That undercurrent of instigation that tries to lure protesters into violence is always present, and reports of misconduct should be met with skepticism until corroborated. Painting protesters as primitive and uncivilized criminals, as news reports tend to do, is an abuse of media in my eyes when it is unfounded. This goes for Tea Party members and UCSD protesters.

The same framing of protesters and undercurrents of instigation that I saw first handed during the “Cookout” saga played out on television news leading up to the passing of the healthcare bill. Chancellor Fox is no Barack Obama when it comes to oration, but strong leadership and effective communication of a consistent message are key to dealing with protesters. The Tea Party and BSU are on opposite ends of the political spectrum and have separate demographics on the whole, but have been treated similarly by the media. Obama’s ignoring the Tea Party as opposed to Chacellor Fox’s submitting to the BSU’s demands is to be interpreted on a personal basis.

Speaking of the president, I was not surprised that Obama never had anything to say about the “Cookout”. He is America’s first black president, and the Cookout was a nationwide news story with African American students declaring a state of emergency at a public university. Sounds like the makings of a possible prime Obama intervention. Especially because his name has been invoked surrounding the Cookout saga, from how far we still have to as a country even though Obama is president, to the counter, Obama’s president, racism is overstated, and racial violence has been absent at UCSD forever. It really does seem like Obama just might have something to say as our first black president when a public university has an inflammatory racial incident concerning African American students.

Obama was quite busy gearing up to pass healthcare when the Cookout saga was playing out, and as president, he probably has many higher priority things to attend to at any given moment. However, and this is just speculation, but Obama already tried his hand at commenting on a racial incident at a university involving an African American. We will remember the Henry Louis Gates controversy. Gates, a Harvard professor who is black, was arrested at his home when he forgot his key and entered his house by other means, and made national headlines. The “Compton Cookout” was a ghetto-themed party at UCSD and the series of events it spawned made national headlines. Unless Harvard is just that much more noteworthy than UCSD (and it is), the subject matter is quite similar.

But Obama didn’t come out of that one unscathed. He said the arrested officer “acted stupidly” and was met with backlash from police officers saying the officer who “acted stupidly” had merely acted dutifully. Obama seemed to have made an emotional intuitive judgment on the issue without gathering a sufficient amount of information on the case, and the Henry Louis Gates controversy was very much the Barack Obama controversy and how the president responds to racial incidents. Obama failed that one, by most accounts he could and should have done a better job. On the other hand, perhaps when race is so deeply implicated there is no way to win and one side will attack you ferociously no matter what type of position you take. A more thoughtful and informed course of action would have benefitted the president, nonetheless.

Obama had an opportunity to construct a thoughtful and informed response to the “Compton Cookout”, but he seems to have ignored it, at least on the record. I am curious as to why Obama would address the Henry Louis Gates controversy and not the Compton Cookout. I will not stop at “Harvard is more important than UCSD”, not even if combined with “a professor who was arrested is more important than a party at which no black students were harmed or directly oppressed”. If one event merited a response from the president, I believe they both should. Perhaps it’s simply a matter that neither were worthy of the president’s comment.

Or perhaps Obama was reticent about commenting on the Cookout because he learned a lesson from the Henry Louis Gates controversy. That he can’t win by addressing similar incidents. That whatever he says would be used against him. Certainly, any response Obama had to the Cookout would have immediately been compared to the Henry Louis Gates controversy immediately. Perhaps he simply did not want the two to be interlinked as the media surely would have it. If the Gates controversy was something of a defeat for Obama, commenting on the Cookout would be linked to that defeat. And if he thought the Gates controversy got him hammered in the papers, what might have happened if the Koala got a hold of a Cookout-related Obama quote? Obama probably granted grace to the Koala by not giving them anything to attack and therefore keeping them from further inflaming the situation.

However, Obama did have a chance to redeem himself of the Gates controversy. If he handled the Cookout especially well, it could overshadow the Gates controversy and shown how the president has learned from that experience. His new thoughtful, informed, approach to racial incidents at universities would become expected in the handling of potential future incidents. Handled well, the Cookout offered Obama redemption for a past misstep, and a new expectancy of premium performance for future issues of a similar nature. However, the linkage to the Gates controversy may have been enough to prevent Obama from wanting to have anything to do with the Cookout. He tried his hand at this type of thing and learned his lesson. All speculation, but the similarities are striking to me. And it’s still entirely possible that the guy is just too damn busy to have addressed it at all.

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Posted March 28, 2010 by Wada in Compton Cookout, UCSD, UCSD protest, UCSD Walkout

One response to “The Compton Cookout, Healthcare, and Obama

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  1. Pingback: News: Obama Presents Fox with Medal of Science « Tritonthink

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