The Picnic Table Summit
By Scott Wilson
The imagery, participants, and much-mentioned choice of beverage (a beer) when President Obama gathers Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley at the White House Thursday will all be used to send the same message: Nothing more to see here. Let's move along.
Crowley's arrest of Gates, a star Harvard professor of African-American Studies, opened for many a window on the way race is lived in this country -- and also offered a raw prime-time look at how America's first black president understands the unresolved issue of racial profiling in police work.
In a news conference, Obama said the Cambridge police "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates in his own home, only to later call his own remarks "stupid." He has maintained the view, however, that the arrest itself was questionable. The disorderly conduct charge against Gates has been dropped.
The story since has taken on a life of its own, providing the White House with an unwanted distraction as it pushes a recalcitrant Congress to come up with a health care reform bill. Details about the arrest have tended to cloud rather than clarify the debate over whether Gates or Crowley acted correctly.
Now comes what may soon be known as the Picnic Table Summit.
Robert Gibbs, Obama's press secretary, told reporters this morning that the president will meet with Gates and Crowley at 6 p.m. Thursday around the picnic table outside the Oval Office (and not far from the new swing set). They'll drink beer, as the world has been told repeatedly -- Blue Moon for the policeman, Red Stripe for the professor, Bud for the president.
Crowley will bring his family and take some pictures, Gibbs said. It's not known yet whether Gates will do the same.
And a plea from the White House press operation: No more racial politics, at least not now.
"This is about a beer," Gibbs said, adding that the meeting was a chance to "deescalate."
"The president wants to continue to take the temperature down," Gibbs said.
Posted at 11:58 AM ET on Jul 28, 2009
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