What was accomplished by the now notorious meeting for a few beers at the White House, at which President Obama and Vice-President Biden welcomed Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cambridge police officer James Crowley?
Unlike the imbroglio over Rev. Jeremiah Wright, President Obama did not call for a national dialogue on race. Indeed the immediate purpose of the meeting was to end discussion of the underlying incident, and of the President’s remarks about it. The President wants to talk about health care reform, not race relations right now, especially in light of the fact that his poll numbers among white voters are off six or seven points since he said the police officers acted "stupidly" in arresting Gates. It should also be noted, however, that insofar as the incident touched deeper issues, the idea that meeting over beers can resolve those issues easily, is probably not the teaching moment the President sought. But, he is the President and he has a legislative agenda and that does, and should, trump teaching moments.
Of course, while it is clear that this incident had nothing to do with racial profiling and everything to do with two men from the two professions most notorious for getting huffy in the face of challenges to their authority, it remains the fact that the officers did act stupidly. Once it became clear that Gates was in his own house, they should have walked away. It is not a crime to be rude in one’s own home.
It should also be clear that the incident tells us next to nothing about the actual state of relations between police officers and minority communities. Skip Gates was always an unlikely candidate for the role of champion of the black underclass. He lives in Cambridge, not in the ghetto, he wears his cap facing forward if he wears a cap, and my guess is that he is not usually out past midnight. There are problems between police officers and minorities, real problems that require attention, but the incident with Professor Gates tells us next to nothing about that.
But, the biggest news came not at the White House beer chat, but at the press conference at the AFL-CIO afterwards. Massachusetts Democrats should be recruiting James Crowley to be their candidate for U.S. Senate or Governor. Articulate, handsome, measured in his comments, unwilling to take the bait the press was offering, here was a man with a future in politics. Chris Matthews on MSNBC said it was like listening to Susan Boyle the first time, the recognition that a new, great, heretofore undiscovered talent had been thrust onto the stage.
Hopefully, now, the country can get back to health care reform.