President Obama worked today towards healing the rift he created on Tuesday night when he said the Cambridge police had “acted stupidly” in the case of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
From the Politico
With two phone calls and a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room Friday, President Obama attempted to recast his role in the debate over Monday’s arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. by the Cambridge, Mass., Police Department.
Obama phoned both Gates and James Crowley, the police sergeant who arrested Gates, inviting them to the White House for what could be a made-for-television event advancing a narrative of racial reconciliation.
And in remarks to the White House press corps, the president responded to outcry over his charge that Cambridge police had “acted stupidly” in their handling of Gates’ arrests. Obama acknowledged that he “gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically,” conceding he might have “calibrated those words differently.”
But the larger question for Obama going forward is whether the week’s events have recast something far more fundamental in the public mind – Obama’s persona as a post-racial leader, a president who offered himself to voters as a figure of racial reconciliation.
That image was put to the test for the first time by the April 2008 blow-up over Obama’s fiery former pastor, the Rev. Jerermiah Wright. Now, some expect Obama to return to a more cautious posture when it comes to talk of race – or risk a backlash from white voters.
“He’s got to be racially nuanced from now on. That’s what he’s learned from this,” said Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland political science professor who ran Rev. Jesse Jackson’s campaigns for the presidency. “His recent statement [Friday] was calibrated to bring him back to where he was, especially with whites, and they appreciated that he leveled the playing field.”
Walters predicted Obama would even get a gauzy, feel-good moment out of the incident if Gates and Crowley visit the White House – where Obama suggested the three might get together to have a beer.
“They will get together and have a beer in the White House and have a Kumbaya moment. And that will be the end of it,” he said.”
For a president who has occupied his historic role as the first black president with caution, the comment at Wednesday’s presser was an unusually direct engagement with issues of race – and came at a particularly bad time for Obama, derailing what he’d hoped would be his most direct pitch for his health care plan yet. And for a politician who has benefited from his critics’ ineptitude with racial language – such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s description of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as a “Latina woman racist” – Obama’s comments struck an uncharacteristically polarizing note.
That’s just great. Obama plays the race card for all the nation to see and hear and gets beaten up by it so he is now going to try to score political points by putting on a display at the White House. Officer Crowley should reject any invitation by the president lest he became a pawn in Obama’s scheme to undo the damage.