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President Barack Obama’s much-ballyhooed "beer summit" came and went at the White House Thursday where the two sides of what has become a bitter racial debate met, talked, drank beer, agreed to disagree and promised to meet and talk again.
Nobody apologized and nobody changed their position. It was, for most practical purposes, a non-event that lasted 40 minutes and probably won’t do much to stem the simmering racism that still runs through the fabric of America.
The arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his home by Cambridge, Mass. police Sgt. Joseph Crowley two weeks ago turned into a national debate when Obama said Crowley "acted stupidly." Crowley shrugged it off by saying he hadn’t voted for Obama anyway.
Crowley has refused to apologize and although Obama has tried to stem the backlash against his own comments, he hasn’t offered an apology either.
I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart. I am confident that has happened here tonight, and I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode.
White House officials hope this ends Obama’s public involvement in the affair and that he can get back to trying to convince a skeptical public to support his health care reform proposals but political professionals doubt it will be that easy.
"The President stepped into a big pile on this one and the stink won’t go away that easily," one Democratic strategist told Capitol Hill Blue.
Both Gates and Crowley tried to put a positive spin on the evening.
"I hope this will be an occasion for education, not recrimination," Gates said, noting that Obama "just might have a few other things on his plate as well."
I think what you had today was two gentlemen agreeing to disagree on a particular issue. I don’t think that we spent too much time dwelling on the past. We spent a lot of time discussing the future.
Before the meeting, Obama tried to play down expectations, telling reporters:
I noticed this has been called the "Beer Summit." It’s a clever term, but this is not a summit, guys. This is three folks having a drink at the end of the day, and hopefully giving people an opportunity to listen to each other. And that’s really all it is. This is not a university seminar.
Crowley said Obama didn’t say much at the meeting, noting:
He provided the beer. He contributed in a small part. He really wanted to bring two people together to try to solve not only a local issue in Cambridge but also what has become a national issue.
But Obama’s "acted stupidly" remark cost him in the public eye with polls showing 41 percent of Americans disapproving of his actions with 29 percent approving. Whites gave Obama a thumbs down by a 2-1 margin.