The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


Culture Wars

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  | Category:  Culture Wars
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Posted by: StewartIII | July 29, 2009 6:41 PM

I hope it doesn't play out like a Jerry Springer show.

Cheers, guys, I'll have a Sam Adams

Posted by: harry9 | July 29, 2009 2:28 PM

Regardless what I think about the "arrest", regardless of what I think may be perceived as racial implications, stereotyping, etc., this does not rise to the level of requiring Presidential intervention. Just because it's an issue involving persons of two races (even if one of the two is prominent in his field), doesn't mean that it can't or shouldn't be resolved at a lower level.

The President doesn't have enough things to do he needs to become involved in local controvery? Should I assume that the President will make himself available for other issues that are perceived racial or discriminatory? Will he be coming down on the lack of white-owned supermarkets not operating in "black" areas of Washington DC, in his own back yard? Will he be reviewing each and every case of promotions involving police or firemen, promotion of personnel to senior enlisted or officer rank, inviting everyone in for a beer?

I'm sorry, but the President has more important things to do than get involved in local issues, even if some of those things he's doing has a racial bent to it. Because if he's setting the bar for Presidential involvement in what, like it or not is (in my view) a relatively minor incident - even if one of the people is prominent in his field), he'll be discriminatory if he doesn't help out in the next incident someone thinks rises to his level, let alone inviting them to the White House for a beer to work things out.

Posted by: Dungarees | July 29, 2009 2:23 PM

Childhood Diseases

“The terrible 2’s”, that almost incorruptible age when we have a mind of our own….which begins to dream; when we begin saying “No” to authority and when we are not yet taught to “see” in black and white; when, an insignificant tadpole bores a hole into our curiosity and imagination, which are effectively obliterated by the purchase of a hard plastic electronic device. Age 2, never to be seen in its originally pure state again.

“Common sense”, an intangible commodity, which is more elusive than the term first suggests. “Purchased” at great expense and sacrifice, it costs prodigiously more than a few cents and generally comes with a guarantee that states that it isn’t very common.

With every innocuous candle lit, the 3, 4 and 5 year child must memorialize another list…of useless opinions, deformed facts, procedures and conditions (if it wants to see another birthday again!) which never appear on the list of common sense. They learn systematically that they can say “we are only human” to disclaim any responsibility. They learn that color, gender and race add broad allowances for past, present and future deficiencies, and for time immemorial.

Between the contorted layers of sweet cake and celebration, children digest their parent’s insecurities, hatred and prejudices and they never find their way out…ever. The division between “potential” and “ignorance” can be marked by a very early age.

“Time” has come, now, to collect on our faulty deposits. These time bombs adults have left to bloom…which multiply exponentially must not receive further impetus from a President of the United States.

While Obama apologizes for his malapropos statements, that does not negate his inherent bias towards a singular race. One cannot adequately represent the United States of America if one, as an adult, is unable to graduate from “adopted” childhood, or even more deforming, adult handicaps which thwart more profound advancements yet advance those issues of color. Time is exhausted with our torpid rendezvous with misery. It has seen the same reruns over and over again. If we were to sit on its shoulders for a wild ride through the history of mankind, we would witness that every race, no matter its shade of color, at some point has been raped, pillaged, conquered, enslaved and destroyed, usually in that order, over and over again! It is time to run quickly through the 2nd and 3rd act of this woeful tale of “adopted” issues…to grow up and become something more effective.

Give your children a chance to become something other than what you inherited.

Stop spreading your proud, historic family diseases.

Karen Engle

Posted by: KEngle2009 | July 29, 2009 7:02 AM

Obama and Gates RACISTS?

TEACHABLE MOMENT: Leading Psychiatrist Concludes Obama and Professor Gates are racists with a deep seated hatred towards white people!

Watch the full video at:

Posted by: tombass09 | July 28, 2009 8:06 PM

"BTW people,
Obama just gave 1 billion to hire or rehire police officers
Posted by: JRM2"

Sorry, but with crime rates continuing to drop, what the country doesn't need is a billion extra in more government employees (cops) that will not add value to local economies. It needs a billion invested in adding industrial jobs, preferably in areas like Detroit and Cleveland.

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | July 28, 2009 5:45 PM

Having just read the actual police report on, I am LMFASO at Crowley and the Cambridge Chief of Police who stood by him. Especially after reading the wonderful Ms. Whalen's statement that was on I hope that Gates sues the s**t out of them. Its no wonder that the charges were dropped.

Posted by: MET9 | July 28, 2009 4:50 PM


Under Massachusetts law a person cannot be arrested for verbally abusing a police officer.

There have been several court cases in Massachusetts which have set this precedent.

Posted by: JRM2 | July 28, 2009 4:49 PM

It is in the nature of jesters to speak their minds when the mood takes them, regardless of the consequences. They are neither calculating nor circumspect, and this may account for the "foolishness" often ascribed to them. Jesters are also generally of inferior social and political status and are rarely in a position (and rarely inclined) to pose a power threat.

Who is the greater jester? Biden or Gibbs

Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere.
—William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Posted by: vaincre | July 28, 2009 4:45 PM

lindalovejones @ 3:24 p.m., word up!

And Obama is keeping this out by the playground, where it belongs.

If Sgt. Cowley wants to enter the premises, let him get a warrant!



Posted by: scrivener50 | July 28, 2009 4:22 PM

Two people guilty of reverse discrimination and one police officer sharing a beer. Should be an interesting moment. Or should I say a teachable moment.

Posted by: donchew1 | July 28, 2009 4:20 PM

well, there goes my theory! I expected that the class (as opposed to racial) nature of this dispute would have been exposed by Gates ordering something from a boutique microbrewery while Crowley chose Bud Light. Instead it turns out that Obama is the real Joe Six Pack in the crowd!

Posted by: eomcmars | July 28, 2009 3:40 PM

Sorry, professor70, apparently only U.S. beer is served at the White House. I read somewhere that LBJ established the policy and it has continued ever since, through Republican and Democratic administrations alike. And they say bipartisanship is dead.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | July 28, 2009 3:34 PM

Beer is the Answer! But...

Obama drinks Budweiser?!? That's the last straw. I am moving my family to Belgium--where strong beer has kept two ethnic groups, who hate oneanother, far from violence (for at least since the last time the Germans stopped by to visit on their way to Paris). Someone call Goose Island in Chicago and get some fresh Honkers Ale flown-in.

Red Stripe!?! Gates needs to vacation in the Bahamas where the Kalik is 10% ABV.

As for the Blue Moon, I would recommend to Sgt. Crowley the switch to Hoegaarden. And yes with the slice of orange, especially during the heat of August in Foggy Bottom. Alternatly, a Franziskaner or Maiselweisse would suffice.

I am shocked there is not a proper beer steward in the Executive Mansion.

Posted by: professor70 | July 28, 2009 3:24 PM

TO: DaMan2 who wrote:
"Obama and Gates played the race card. Sgt. Crowley did not. I hope they apologize to him but I doubt it. I'm sure they want to play Crowley and spin it to their advantage."

My hope is that at the very earliest moment possible, police officers go to your house and arrest you for speaking the way you do.

Until that happens, your full of chit.

Posted by: lindalovejones | July 28, 2009 3:24 PM

BTW people,
Obama just gave 1 billion to hire or rehire police officers

Posted by: JRM2 | July 28, 2009 3:22 PM


MY COMMENT, about the propriety of keeping this "town versus gown" face-to-face OUTSIDE THE PREMISES of the White House, has drawn the "held for blog owner" message...

...although Wa-Po does NOT "hold" comments unless its software detects foul language.

I believe I was subject to prior restraint and/or CENSORSHIP by operatives of a rogue U.S. government surveillance program that has maliciously interfered with my telecommunications for FIVE YEARS RUNNING.

What comment would provoke such prior restraint? Please judge for yourself by scrolling to the end of this "comments" section at a blog thread of the American Civil Liberties Union: RE: "GESTAPO USA"

Posted by: scrivener50 | July 28, 2009 3:20 PM

This is an important thing to talk about!
Way more important and fundamental to America than Iraq or Afgan.
"Governments should be afraid of their people, not people afraid of their governments."

I keep seeing things like “…the officer would not have had to assert his authority if….”

Is this REALLY America?
Don’t all you Americans know?
The officer DID NOT HAVE TO assert his authority.
He did though - not because of a crime being committed.
He did to prove he was in charge in Gates home - regardless of what Gates thought!

That’s a crime and the cop should be prosecuted. At the very least, retrained.

And to think, this cop was one who had extra exposure to race sensitivity.

America is fast becoming something other than the “land of the free and home of the brave”.

More like home of the people that have to kow-tow to cops in their own home and look at their feet.

What a bunch of losers we American’s are becoming!

Posted by: American19 | July 28, 2009 3:02 PM

In the state of Massacdusettes a person can not be arrested for disorderly conduct for yelling at a police officer, that just happens to be the law, except for a black person.

So please stop projecting.

Posted by: JRM2 | July 28, 2009 2:58 PM

Obama was right:
"In several cases, the courts in Massachusetts have considered whether a person is guilty of disorderly conduct for verbally abusing a police officer. In Commonwealth v. Lopiano, a 2004 decision, an appeals court held it was not disorderly conduct for a person who angrily yelled at an officer that his civil rights were being violated. In Commonwealth v. Mallahan, a decision rendered last year, an appeals court held that a person who launched into an angry, profanity-laced tirade against a police officer in front of spectators could not be convicted of disorderly conduct."

Posted by: JRM2 | July 28, 2009 2:54 PM

Obama and Gates played the race card. Sgt. Crowley did not. I hope they apologize to him but I doubt it. I'm sure they want to play Crowley and spin it to their advantage. Shameful.

Posted by: DaMan2 | July 28, 2009 2:48 PM

Maybe then we could stop talking about this ridiculous "controversy."

Posted by: parkerfl1 | July 28, 2009 2:30 PM

With all the National & International issues on the table right's amazing PrezBo has time to mediate a minor local police action and try to turn it into a Turning Point for Race Relations. Of course being The Leader of the World's Most Powerful Nation,,is a notion that still eludes Obama...seems to be way above his paygrade. He's still in his Community Organizer role. I think we need a President Czar !

Posted by: Gypsy1 | July 28, 2009 1:31 PM

'by the book'. That's the favorite saying. That's like saying 'conspiracy theory' for tower #7.
Why is the word 'profile is not considered the 'N' word.
Here's by the

Posted by: biff777 | July 28, 2009 12:52 PM

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