Dear Mr. President,
I know you're halfway around the world, doing very important things, but we've having some trouble here at home that your staff may not have told you about.
It's the police -- especially the police at the University of California, Davis.
In this video -- it's long, but you only need to watch the first minute or two -- a policeman walks up to seated protesters and, at close range, covers them in a cloud of pepper spray. (Read a more complete account here.)
Let me set aside the distressing irony that protesters in, say, Tahrir Square in Cairo last spring were, in the main, better treated by repressive authorities than protesters on a California campus.
Let me just talk politics.
Specifically, this: What would I do if I were president and running for re-election?
Let me go a bit further...
What would I do if I were running for re-election and I knew the Republicans were mounting a nationwide campaign to disenfranchise as many minority voters as possible?
What would I do if I were running for re-election and knew that many of my core supporters in 2008 felt disrespected and ignored by my Administration?
And, finally, what would I do if I were running for re-election and I had even the vaguest idea how many kids go to college and how many families back home were worrying about them -- and how many of those kids and parents considered themselves Democrats?
In that situation, I think -- again, I'm just making a political calculation here --- I'd take the opportunity to speak out about what happened at UC Davis.
I'd say something like this:
My fellow Americans:
I'm out of the country, dealing with some thorny issues in Asia, but I have seen the video of students demonstrating peacefully at the Davis campus of the University of California and police blanketing them in pepper spray.
I don't want to get into the particulars of this incident.
I do want to affirm some principles that may be getting lost in our national conversation.
1) Americans have an absolute right to assemble and present their grievances.
2) The authorities have an obligation to guarantee public safety.
3) That obligation may include arresting demonstrators who are violating the law.
4) The authorities must respect the rights of non-violent demonstrators.
This isn't rocket science. It's not even politics. It's Democracy 101, and I hope we'll see more of it -- and fewer videos like this.
Mr. President, making a short speech like this should not be a tough call.
Consider: Forbes magazine -- Forbes! -- has condemned the police.
Do you really want to be the last to speak up?
Or is it your intent to say nothing?
There comes a time, sir, when we must stand up and be counted --- or have our silence counted as its own kind of speech.
I'm sure there are many Americans --- not just college kids, their parents and their professors --- who would be grateful if you would remind us all of the right to assemble peacefully.
Some, perhaps, might even see that as a reason to vote for you.