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What has America learned from Obama's 'teachable moment'?

The three men who will picnic at the White House Thursday have all made mistakes – and shown that talking about race is still complicated.

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If President Obama would like the confrontation between a black Harvard professor and a white police sergeant to be a “teachable moment,” what, then, is the lesson to be drawn from a few minutes of ill temper in Cambridge, Mass., on July 16?

There are as many opinions as blogs, as many commentaries as water coolers, yet one theme recurs, and as Mr. Obama picnics with the two men Thursday night, it is one he might be inclined to mention. He has before.

In his unscheduled press conference last Friday, he said that Mr. Crowley’s decision to arrest Mr. Gates was an “overreaction,” but then added: “Professor Gates probably overreacted as well.”

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, like the president a friend of Gates, agreed with Obama’s assessment. "I think [Gates] should have reflected on whether or not this was the time to make that big a deal," Mr. Powell said an interview with CNN. And of Crowley, he added: "I would have thought at that point some adult supervision would have stepped in and said, 'Okay, look, it is his house. Come on, let's not take this any further. Take the handcuffs off.'"

Yet the same charge could be leveled at Obama himself, who said the Cambridge Police Department acted “stupidly,” even while admitting he didn’t know all the facts of the case. He later admitted that it had been a poor choice of words.

Comedian Bill Cosby, a frequent commentator on African-American society, said in an interview with a Boston radio station that he “was shocked to hear the president making this kind of statement.”


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