On Monday, Robert Copeland—the Wolfeboro, N.H., police commissioner who admitted to calling President Barack Obama the n-word and refusing to apologize—resigned.
And while it’s unlikely that he’ll be missed, I, for one, am actually somewhat relieved that our nation endured the Copeland saga. Here’s why:
Throughout much of Obama’s tenure in office, we have been stuck in this seemingly never-ending argument over race that’s summarized as follows: Someone does or says something inflammatory. Then some of us say or write that the comment or incident was racially insensitive. While some people may agree, there are inevitably others who say we are overreacting, being paranoid or are simply obsessed with race. For everyone who says that a congressman calling Obama “boy” was not racially motivated, there are those of us who are sure that it was.
But Copeland was, inadvertently, helpful in this case because he removed all the ambiguity from the equation. He proved to all Americans of all political persuasions that racism is very much alive and well in 2014, even among our government officials. He helped prove, in other words, that some of us are not so paranoid after all.
He also managed to accomplish something that, these days, is pretty rare. He got politicians from both parties to agree that Obama—whether you agree with his policies or not—is our commander in chief and, as such, is deserving of respect.
If you think I’m exaggerating, consider that Copeland’s ouster was due in no small part to the influence of white Republicans, not typically whom you’d think of as being among Obama’s chief defenders. But in the days after Copeland’s remarks became public, high-profile Republicans lined up to denounce those words and the man who spoke them, demanding that Copeland go.
Perhaps the most high profile was former presidential candidate, Obama rival and Wolfeboro homeowner Mitt Romney, who said, “The vile epithet used and confirmed by the commissioner has no place in our community. He should apologize and resign.”
Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts senator currently running for Senate in New Hampshire, said through a spokeswoman that the comments were “reprehensible” and also called for Copeland to resign. New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan; Democratic senator, Jeanne Shaheen; and Republican senator, Kelly Ayotte, all denounced Copeland and called for his resignation, with Ayotte also saying he should apologize.
Republican state Sen. Jeb Bradley—who represents the town and knows Copeland—was more direct, saying, “He can disagree with President Obama all he wants, but it’s not right, whether it’s the president of the United States or any other American, to be called what he was called. It’s offensive.”
But high-profile Republicans were not the only ones who stepped up. The Concord Monitor called for Copeland’s resignation, as did angry residents. According to reports, the town was flooded with calls from tourists threatening to boycott.