A Teachable Moment For The President Perhaps President Obama need not wade into every racially charged conflict. Daniel Schorr says Obama should remember he is the president, and when faced with an emotionally laden encounter, he cannot afford to act on his visceral reactions.
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A Teachable Moment For The President

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A Teachable Moment For The President

A Teachable Moment For The President

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now to the aftermath of the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. To recap, a couple of weeks ago, Cambridge police went to his home after a 911 call about a possible break-in. Gates, who is African-American, had been trying to force his own front door open because it was stuck. When he was arrested, he called it racism and racial profiling. Earlier this week, tapes of the 911 call were released and today the woman who called 911 spoke to reporters. Lucia Whalen said she's glad the tapes prove that she did not label Gates by his race.

Ms. LUCIA WHALEN: I hope people can see that I tried to be careful and honest with my words.

SIEGEL: Tomorrow, Gates and the man who arrested him meet with President Obama at the White House. Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr puts that meeting in a larger perspective.

DANIEL SCHORR: 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 Sergeant James Crowley last Friday, invited him to call him Barack. Actually, I would object to a citizen addressing the president in such a familiar way. So, next, the principals — Mr. Obama, Sgt. Crowley and Professor Gates — are to have peace talks at the White House tomorrow evening.

The president can say, as he did at his press 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 Barack Obama as the post-racial presidential candidate. But it is clear that Mr. Obama has been tasked now with attempting to help heal America's racial divide.

As a candidate, in a well-remembered speech in Philadelphia, he denounced the Reverend Jeremiah Wright for using incendiary language. He urged Americans to move beyond racial stalemate. As president, Mr. 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 tomorrow night, as the president clinks beer glasses with the black professor and the white cop who, by coincidence, was the one who briefed his colleagues on avoiding racial profiling. But perhaps President Obama need not wade into every racially charged conflict. After the Cambridge affair the president searches for teachables. Could I address the first teachable to Mr. Obama? Remember Mr. President, 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: don't do something. Just stand there.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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