A Strategy, Not A Gaffe

On Fox News Sunday this morning, Robert Gibbs was asked whether President Obama had prepared to be asked about the Henry Gates controversy at his press conference last week. The colloquy is interesting:

BAIER: Presidents, before prime time news conferences, usually have detailed preparation sessions. And President Obama has already had four time prime time news conferences.
Before Wednesday’s news conference, did you prepare him for a question about Henry Gates’s arrest in Cambridge?
GIBBS: Well, look, let’s just say, it’s safe to say we went over a whole lot of topics that we thought might come up, and certainly, this was a topic that was and has been in the news.
I think the president, on Friday, spoke about the fact that he hadn’t calibrated his words well probably unnecessarily added to the media frenzy around what was going on in Cambridge, so much so that even the police officer, Sergeant Crowley, that he talked to, from Cambridge, asked him for advice on how to get the press off of his — off of his lawn, and the president said, “I’m trying to figure out how to get the press off my lawn, too.”
BAIER: You know, you — so you prepared him for the question, or at least made him aware that it could come up. Did he read the police report beforehand?
GIBBS: I don’t know if the president read the police report. I think the president was clear in discussing the fact that he did not know all the details of what had transpired in Cambridge.
My guess is that only a very few people know exactly what happened in every instance in that. Again, I know the president…
BAIER: I guess my question is, early on, did he determine that he was going to take sides to back his friend to the extent that he did Wednesday?
GIBBS: Well, again, I think the president discussed the notion that saying beforehand that he knew Professor Gates, that he didn’t have all the details, and in hindsight understands that his words were not calibrated as they should have been.

Of course, what got Obama into trouble was not saying that he knew Gates, but claiming that the Cambridge Police “acted stupidly” in arresting him. Although Gibbs doesn’t come out and say it, it appears that Obama’s “acted stupidly” line was not a spur of the moment blunder, but rather scripted commentary that he worked out in advance with his aides. Gibbs went on:

And, look, Bret, it’s our hope that, as the president said, there can be — this can be part of a teachable moment, that we can create a better communication and a dialogue between communities and police and help everyone do their job a little bit better.

Like the President, Gibbs doesn’t seem to understand that the person in need of “teaching” is Obama. And who is supposed to “do their job a little bit better”? The police, I guess; but some would say the incident suggests that the President needs to do his job a little bit better. The dialogue continues:

BAIER: In fact, accepting that invitation for the beer, Mr. Gates wrote this. He said that he hopes it helps. Quote, “my unfortunate experience will only have a larger meaning if we can all use this to diminish racial profiling.”
So does the president believe, as Mr. Gates clearly still does, that this was an instance of racial profiling?
GIBBS: Well, I think that’s an issue that the president has worked on and been concerned about. I don’t think the president has come down on one side of that or the other. Again, I think he would tell you he doesn’t know all the details of this.
But, if what we can do is bring Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley together to discuss some of the issues and the events that surrounded that day in Cambridge, and if that helps communities and law enforcement work together as they did in Illinois on this important issue with then-state senator Barack Obama; if communities and law enforcement throughout the country can do that, I think we’ll all be a little bit better off.
And that’s what this is really all about.

It’s hard to tell, sometimes, whether Gibbs’s incoherence is deliberate. Often, I think it is; perhaps that’s the case here. The “issue” that President Obama “has been concerned about” and that “communities and law enforcement work together” on is apparently racial profiling. The conversation that Obama intends to have with Gates and Crowley over a beer could get a little tense if Gates (and Obama?) think they are working on the issue of racial profiling, while Crowley thinks they are working on the issue of privileged people with connections in high places acting abusively toward police officers who are trying to do their jobs.

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