Before meeting over beer with Harvard Prof. Henry Gates and Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley, President Obama said Thursday he was "fascinated with the fascination" given this latest episode dealing with Gates arrest.
Obama also tried to downplay expectations of the getting together over beer to discuss the incident, where Gates said he was cuffed and taken to the police station as a result of racial profiling. Last week at a press conference, in reply to my asking Obama about his reaction to the arrest, Obama said the Cambridge police acted "stupidly."
Obama said, "With respect to tonight, you know, I'm, I have to say, fascinated with the fascination about this evening. As you know, this idea was prompted when I was talking to Sergeant Crowley and he said: Well, maybe I'll have a beer in the White House someday. And I said: Well, you know, we -- I'm sure that can be arranged.
"You know, 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 -- 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 -- this is not a university seminar. It is not a summit. It's an attempt to have some personal interaction when an issue has become so hyped and so symbolic that you lose sight of just the fact that these are people involved, including myself, all of whom are imperfect.
"And you know, hopefully instead of ginning up anger and hyperbole, you know, everyone can just spend a little bit of time with some self-reflection and -- and recognizing that other people have different points of view. And -- and -- and that's all it is.
"And so you know, I will be surprised if you guys all make this the lead as opposed to very important meeting that we just had with one of our most important partners in the world, but -- but the press has surprised me before."
MR. GIBBS: Small expectations.
Q -- what do you hope to -- what's your best-case scenario for looking back and seeing, we accomplished this last night; we were able to --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think -- let me answer this not as the press secretary to the President but as a -- just as an average American citizen. I'll take my tie off and I'll be right back. Look, I think, again, just as the President said, this is -- obviously you had a situation many days ago that got a lot of attention, not the least of which was because of his word choice, which he's come out and said he wishes he hadn't used those words -- or that word; that each of these two individuals, again, are accomplished at what they do; they're honorable, decent men; that he believes this entire situation -- if we step back and have a better dialogue amongst each other and have a conversation about common hopes and common opportunities and common dreams, that we can make headway on some of the issues that have -- that we've been wrestling with for a long, long time.
And I think the President hopes that -- I don't think the President has out-sized expectations that one cold beer at one table here is going to change massively the course of human history by any sense of the imagination, but that he and the two individuals -- Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates -- can hopefully provide a far different picture than what we've seen to date of this situation, and hopes, again, as I've said both today and before, that this is a conversation and a dialogue that happens not just because it's sponsored by or at the invitation of a participant or the President, but happens in communities, large and small, all over the country, in order to make progress through better understanding. And I think that's what the President wants to do today.