Probing whether Obama was the teacher in his "teachable moment"

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My article on President Obama’s so-called “Beer Summit” with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Sgt. James Crowley yesterday is here. One of the more interesting parts of the story is that poll numbers show the incident has hurt Mr. Obama’s standing with the public.

The new poll found that 41 percent disapproved of the president’s statements about the Gates incident, with 29 percent approving and 30 percent having no opinion, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Mr. Obama’s overall job approval in the Pew poll slipped from 61 percent to 54 percent from June to July. The results of the survey of 480 people conducted Monday came as a number of other polls released this week showed declining approval for the president’s health care reform proposal.

“Politically, [the Gates incident] has hurt President Obama in the public mind in terms of his character,” said Juan Williams, a well-known black journalist and commentator.

“I think that people feel that [Mr. Obama] has always been a racial healer and were surprised to see him taking sides in a racially charged dispute without all the facts,” Mr. Williams said.

“Hopefully, he can repair some of the damage in his meeting with Gates and Crowley, but that remains to be seen.”

Obama said he wanted the flap over his comments to be a “teachable moment.” At the daily briefing, I asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs whether if the president was the teacher in all of this.

Here’s the video and the transcript. If you’re reading the transcript, the first question is mine and then most of the follow ups are from ABC’s Jake Tapper. The last question, on healthcare, is also mine.

 

 

Q I’ve a question on the health care event yesterday. But on the Gates thing, the President has said he wants this to be a teachable moment. Regardless of who —

MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, are we on health care or Gates — I’m sorry.

Q Gates.

MR. GIBBS: Okay, I’m sorry.

Q So he said he wants it to be a teachable moment. Regardless of who first proposed it, he, through his surrogates called these guys to the White House. But is he the teacher in this teachable moment?

MR. GIBBS: I think all of us are participants in a moment that we hope can teach all in this country that dialogue and communication will always improve the situation. I don’t think today is — I don’t think the President looks at himself as, and I don’t think today the President believes or the situation will be that one will be the teacher and others will be the students. I think the President believes that, hopefully through the example of communication and dialogue, that that can be a positive and lasting lesson for others.

Q Dialogue about what?

MR. GIBBS: About the situation that happened in Cambridge.

Q But how is that teachable for everybody? How is that teachable for the nation if it’s just an incident between two men?

MR. GIBBS: Jake, it’s something that’s been covered quite a bit. I think it’s something that has been — you all have spent an awful lot of time covering. I don’t think it’s about an incident just involving two men. I think if it was an incident involving just two men you might not have done so many stories.

Q Well, some people think it’s an incident about racial profiling; some people think it’s an incident about disrespect for police; some people think it’s — I mean, there are a million different things that it could be a teachable lesson about, and we’re not getting any —

MR. GIBBS: Not a million, but I don’t doubt that there are more than just one.

Q We’re just not — you say it’s a teachable moment. About what? Communication? I mean —

MR. GIBBS: No, I think it’s a — well, I think communication will help be part of — I don’t think — again, Jake, I hate to surmise — I hate to sort of move backwards in a hypothetical. I doubt you could have imagined a week ago in reporting this story that you’d have these two individuals here drinking beer with the President, right?

Q But we wouldn’t have imagined that they’d be here and we wouldn’t hear anything that’s going to happen — from the President. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I think you’re feigning surprise on that one, Mr. Reid. But I think —

Q No, I really — he’s not using this as an opportunity.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I appreciate —

Q The only thing we’re hearing that’s a teachable moment example is we’re going to get a photograph out of it or some film. I don’t understand — I mean —

MR. GIBBS: We don’t have to do that.

Q Do you think the coverage has been — it’s been good that people have been covering this issue? You said there’s been a lot of coverage. Is that a good thing?

MR. GIBBS: Some of it I think has, sure. I think —

Q Think how much more you could get if he came and talked to us.

MR. GIBBS: I feel like I’m trying to — I feel like I’m buying a car.

Q Was the President speaking literally yesterday when he said that he would go over the health care bill line by line? Because there’s a representative from Tennessee, if I’m not mistaken, who sent out a press release saying he’d like to take up the President on that offer in September.

MR. GIBBS: I will forward — if you’ll give me that letter I’ll forward it to scheduling so we can get that done. Unclear if it will be pool coverage.

— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times

Follow me on Twitter // jward@washingtontimes.com // Read my latest articles here // My YouTube channel

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