Please, Liberals, No More “Teachable Moments” Print
By Troy Senik
Friday, July 30 2010
The irony is that the only person who has lacked understanding in Obama’s “teachable moments” has been the president himself.

Last week’s media maelstrom over Shirley Sherrod – the Department of Agriculture employee who was accused of racism because of a video excerpt of a speech she gave to the NAACP – claimed many victims.

There was Ms. Sherrod herself, who saw her words presented out of context, completely inverting the notions of interracial solidarity that were the theme of her speech. With a jittery White House hearing the footsteps of the conservative media approaching, Sherrod paid with her job, the resignation of which was apparently demanded from within the walls of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
There were also a few victims on the right.  Andrew Breitbart, the king of conservative guerilla media, broke the story by releasing video of Sherrod seemingly boasting of reducing assistance to a farmer because he was white.  When the entire footage emerged, the usually rigorous Breitbart was portrayed as either sloppy or duplicitous, depending on one’s level of skepticism.  The Tea Party Movement also suffered, if only because the incident overshadowed the group’s otherwise persuasive rebuttals of the NAACP’s allegations of racism.
But there was undoubtedly one victim uber ales: the American people. Not because of the usual complaints of media sensationalism or racial disharmony, but because the Sherrod incident became the predicate for the return of the most vapid phrase in our political lexicon: “a teachable moment.”
That was the language that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs seized upon to explain President Obama’s ad hoc flailing on the issue, first demanding Sherrod’s head, then apologizing and offering her a promotion if she would return to the administration and (the president could only hope) keep quiet.
If the phrase sounds familiar, it’s because liberals from the president down have used “teachable moment” to describe everything from the White House “beer summit” to an unfortunate joke by the Commander-in-Chief at the expense of the Special Olympics. Since the algebra of politics tell us that if an idea is (a) liberal and (b) ubiquitous, then it must thus be (c) incorrect, the very notion of a “teachable moment” deserves scrutiny. Doing so reveals at least three major deficiencies.
First, there is the absolute literary horror of the phrase. The two most linguistically dishonest places in American life are a therapist’s couch and a graduate school of education, and “teachable moment” combines the worst impulses of both: a whimpering regard for emotion over fact, an inability to take responsibility for failure and a preening sense of implicit superiority. It’s the sort of lifeless pap you hear from mid-level government bureaucrats or overenthusiastic human resource managers. It also fails the highest test of political diction:  If you can’t imagine a phrase being uttered by Abraham Lincoln, Will Rogers or John Wayne, it shouldn’t come anywhere near a president’s lips.
Second, there is the tacit elitism of the phrase. It’s the progressive mindset in password form: since the benighted masses can’t be expected to understand the complexities of the world, the liberal cognoscenti will deign to educate them.
Yet the irony is that the only person who has lacked understanding in Obama’s “teachable moments” has been the president himself. Most Americans didn’t need a homework assignment to understand that it was unwise for the leader of the free world to say that a police officer had “acted stupidly” when he didn’t even grasp the facts of the case. We didn’t need a refresher course on the fact that it’s rather important when firing someone for cause to verify whether that cause actually exists.
Finally, there’s the interminability that the phrase suggests. Every time that the White House or its allies bring up the “teachable moment” in the context of race, it’s part of a suggestion for an “honest national dialogue.”
Please. We have an incessant national dialogue about race, and have for at least 50 years. If anything, perhaps we could benefit from what one of the most honest voices in that conversation, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, once referred to as “benign neglect,” tabling the endless discussion of race and allowing the spirit of tolerance to continue blooming in the way that it inevitably does in America.  It might not be the silver bullet solution, but at least it would spare us another “teachable moment.”