A Teachable Moment For The President

After two weeks, the painful incident of the arrested professor and the hasty president seems to be on its way to resolution.

President Obama, on the telephone with Sgt. James Crowley on Friday, invited him to call him Barack. Actually, I would object to a citizen addressing his president in such a familiar way.

So, next, the principals — Obama, Crowley and professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. — are to have peace talks at the White House on Thursday evening. The president can say, as he did at his news conference, that his remark about police stupidity was triggered by a history of African-Americans and Latinos being disproportionately stopped by the police.

As I noted back in March of last year, it was premature to refer to Obama as the "post-racial" presidential candidate. But it is clear that Obama has been tasked with attempting to help heal America's racial divide.

As a candidate, in a well-remembered speech in Philadelphia, he denounced the Rev. Jeremiah Wright for using "incendiary language." He urged Americans to move beyond racial stalemate.

As president, Obama made a speech on the 100th anniversary of the NAACP and urged young blacks to take their destinies in their hands.

And marking Black History Month, the president's attorney general, Eric Holder, called the United States "a nation of cowards" for not confronting the issue of race.

All this is part of the backdrop Thursday night as the president clinks beer glasses with the black professor and the white cop who, as coincidence would have it, is the one who briefed his colleagues on avoiding racial profiling.

But perhaps Obama need not wade into every racially charged conflict. After the Cambridge, Mass., affair, the president searches for teachables. Could I address a first teachable to Obama?

Remember, Mr. President, that you are the president, and when faced with an emotionally laden encounter, you cannot afford to act on your visceral reactions.

Or, to put it briefly, do not do something. Just stand there.



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