The highly anticipated “beer summit” took place this evening with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden sitting down for a beer with Sgt. James Crowley and Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. The meeting comes a week after a press conference in which the President said Crowley and other officers “acted stupidly” in arresting Gates, right after admitting he knew nothing about the case. He looked foolish after more details emerged that portrayed Gates as the one to invoke race as he went off the deep end on officers just doing their job.
President Obama tried to portray the beer moment as a great step forward in race relations:
I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart. I am confident that has happened here tonight, and I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode.
Whatever happy spin he tries to put on it, the President is trying to put this behind him as a lot of Americans reacted negatively to his reflexive attack on the police without knowing the facts. Among other things, it diminishes his political capital at a time when he needs it the most to sell his health care plan.
As for the beer session itself, what did it really accomplish? I’ll agree with Obama in noting that it’s nice to see that Crowley and Gates have already talked about the subject and plan to talk again. Officer Crowley called the meeting productive and said all parties are looking forward (a relief to the President, I’m sure), but according to him he and Gates “agree to disagree” about the confrontation. Doesn’t that leave us back at square one? I’m all for people of all colors sitting down together, particularly for a nice cold one, and I’m all in favor of a frank, candid, and civil discussion on race.
But let’s be honest – this moment wasn’t about that. When you have news agencies breathlessly reporting each man’s beer of choice, you know it’s less about substance and more about style. This “beer summit” was only about a photo op and providing damage control for the President. The honest discussion on race will have to wait for another day.