Say what you want about his policies and about what you think his "real" motives are, but President Obama is outright amazing when it comes to managing PR, the media and public opinion.
He could have dug in his heels and this silly sideshow would dominate the media cycles for a week. Instead, he's going to ignore his own pride and turn the whole thing into one big feel-good photo-op.
President Obama this afternoon telephoned the Cambridge police sergeant accused of racial profiling and expressed regret for his choice of words at a recent press conference, saying he inadvertently ratcheted up the media frenzy when he said police "acted stupidly" in the arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.
"I want to make clear that in my choice of words I unfortunately gave the impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department and Sergeant [James M.] Crowley specifically. I could have calibrated those words differently," Obama said in a surprise appearance at the White House briefing room. "I told this to Sergeant Crowley. I continue to believe that there was an overreaction in pulling professor Gates out of his home and to the station. I also continue to believe, based on what I've heard, that professor Gates overreacted as well."
Crowley and the president discussed "he and I and professor Gates having a beer here in the White House," Obama said. "We don't know if that's scheduled yet -- but we may put that together."
According to a statement released later by the White House, Obama made the same invitation to Gates during a "positive discussion" in a phone call later in the afternoon.
The five-minute phone conversation between Obama and Crowley took place at about 2:15 p.m., two hours after police unions held a press conference at a hotel in Cambridge asking the president to apologize. In recounting the exchange for the media, the president did not use the words "apology" or "sorry," but he made it clear he regretted fanning the flames of an already explosive story.
"My hope is that as a consequence of this event, this ends up being what's called a teachable moment," Obama said. "Where all of us -- instead of pumping up the volume -- spend a little more time listening to each other and trying to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities. That instead of flinging accusations, we can all be a little more reflective about what we can do to contribute to more unity.
"Lord knows we need it right now."
The phone conversation between the president of the United States and a Cambridge police sergeant was the latest twist in a bizarre series of events that began on July 16 at Gates's home near Harvard Square. By the end of Obama's briefing this afternoon for the White House press corps, he took on a lighter tone.
The president urged the press to leave Crowley's home in Natick and "stop trampling his grass."
Between jokes, Obama noted that he had a political motivation to tamp down the rhetoric over Gates's arrest.
"Over the last two days as we've discussed this issue, I don't know if you've noticed, but nobody has been paying much attention to healthcare," Obama said, eliciting laughter from the press corps.