The essential point about Gates-gate, or the tempest over last week's arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., is this: Most liberal commentary on the subject has taken race as its theme. Conservative commentators, by contrast, have furiously hit the class button.
Liberals, by and large, immediately plugged the event into their unfair-racial-profiling template, and proceeded to call for blacks and whites to "listen to each other's narratives" and other such anodyne niceties even after it started to seem that police racism was probably not what caused the incident.
Conservatives, meanwhile, were following their own "narrative," the one in which racism is often exaggerated and the real victim is the unassuming common man scorned by the deference-demanding "liberal elite." Commentators on the right zeroed in on the fact that Mr. Gates is an "Ivy League big shot," a "limousine liberal," and a star professor at Harvard, an institution they regard with special loathing. They pointed out that Mr. Gates allegedly addressed the cop with that deathless snob phrase, "you don't know who you're messing with"; they reminded us that Cambridge, Mass., is home to a particularly obnoxious combination of left-wing orthodoxy and upper-class entitlement; and they boiled over Mr. Gates's demand that the officer "beg my forgiveness."
Conservatives won this round in the culture wars, not merely because most of the facts broke their way, but because their grievance is one that a certain species of liberal never seems to grasp. Whether the issue is abortion, evolution or recycling, these liberal patricians are forever astonished to discover that the professions and institutions and attitudes that they revere are seen by others as arrogance and affectation.
The "elitism" narrative routinely blind-sides them, takes them by surprise again and again. There they are, feeling good about their solidarity with the coffee-growers of Guatemala, and then they find themselves on the receiving end of criticism from, say, the plumbers of Ohio.
Sgt. Crowley had every right to check on what was reported as a possible break and entry. But as soon as he realized that the occupant was entitled to be in the house, he should have left. He admits in his own police report that he was indeed able to ascertain Professor Gates' residency and hence right to be in the house.
As for Professor Gates' inquiries into the officer's identity and badge number (as Gates describes the confrontation) or his tirade against the officer (as Crowley reports), the citizen was merely--even if neither kindly nor wisely--exercising his constitutional right when faced with official power. Even if Professor Gates were wearing a "Fuck You, Cambridge Police" jacket, the officer would have been obligated to leave the house without its occupant in handcuffs.