In a surprise appearance in the White House pressroom, Obama essentially threw in the towel and tried to dig out of the mess of his own making in the Gates-Crowley episode. He didn’t quite apologize, but he came close:
I actually just had a conversation with Sergeant Jim Crowley, the officer involved. And I have to tell you that as I said yesterday, my impression of him was that he was a outstanding police officer and a good man, and that was confirmed in the phone conversation — and I told him that.
And because this has been ratcheting up — and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up — I want to make clear that in my choice of words I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically — and I could have calibrated those words differently. And I told this to Sergeant Crowley.
I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station. I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well. My sense is you’ve got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved and the way they would have liked it to be resolved.
Rather than blame the media for the flap (as the hapless Robert Gibbs had done earlier in the day), he rationalized that this showed just how “sensitive” these issues are.
Well, I suppose the first rule of politics is when you are in a hole: stop digging. He seemed to do that today. But there was something missing here. The president neither recognizes nor seems to appreciate that as president he shouldn’t be commenting on law-enforcement matters at all, regardless of whether (or maybe, especially when) he knows one of the participants. He is, after all, the president and, as Pete pointed out, his role carries with it a responsibility to refrain from commenting at times, especially when legal charges and countercharges haven’t even been filed.
Some may recall Richard Nixon catching flack for commenting on Charles Mason before his murder trial. An affront! How dare he prejudice the legal system! Indeed, the office of the presidency entails grave responsibilities, one of which is to pipe down when your words can unduly influence, hinder, or obstruct the impartial administration of justice.
Aside from throwing his health-care message into the ditch, this episode only serves to fuel the suspicion that this is a president who feels free to weigh in on and influence every nook and cranny of American life. Sometimes there are events that simply aren’t the business of the president of the United States. It would be nice to think that a lesson has been learned that might be extrapolated to other situations. Unfortunately, everything we’ve seen of late suggests that Obama thinks he knows best — about every conceivable topic.