Damage Control

In an emergency move, President Obama made a surprise visit to the White House briefing room this afternoon to announce that he'd just gotten off the phone with Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge, MA police department.
The brief appearance by Mr. Obama before reporters on Friday afternoon was an attempt by the White House to move beyond the controversy that has dominated the last two days of news coverage. Only hours earlier, Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, said the president had made his final remarks about the issue. But advisers said the mounting criticism from police groups and others persuaded the president to address the matter in an attempt to move on.
The President stopped short of saying that he had apologized to Sgt. Crowley, as did Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, but the president clearly wanted to try to dampen the furor over his entry into the debate on Wednesday night.
At the end of the call, Mr. Obama said, there was a discussion about the police sergeant, Professor Gates and him having a beer at the White House.
Obama's move followed a show of unity by police behind Sgt. Crowley earlier in the day in Cambridge.
The five-minute call between Mr. Obama and Mr. Crowley took place Friday afternoon. Aides said the president had not yet spoken to Professor Gates.
The Wednesday night press conference, designed to sharpen support for the President's health care proposal, turned to disaster when the president entered into the debate over Professor Gates - siding with his Harvard crony, and hanging Sgt. Crowley out to dry - saying he had handled the situation "stupidly." Media coverage since has focused on the appropriateness of Obama's remarks on the Gates matter, diffusing pressure on Congress to pass health care reform.
The controversy, Mr. Obama acknowledged, overshadowed his attempt to explain the effort to overhaul the nation’s health care system. By speaking about the matter again on Friday, the president hoped to turn the page.
It remains to be seen whether the matter will do permanent damage to the Obama health care initiative. I suspect it will come to be viewed as a turning point - in which Obama lost control of the health care drive.
"I don't know if you've noticed, but nobody's been paying much attention to health care."
There has been much focus on the fine job the Obama team does staying on message - it is often described as disciplined. This rare moment of unscripted commentary gave an insight into the president's true feelings that is reminiscent of the Joe the Plumber incident. Claims of being a post-racial president can no longer be credibly made.