"This president who travels the world apologizing for his country couldn't quite apologize for himself."
So said Brit Hume on the most recent installment of "Fox News Sunday" as the panel discussed Barack Obama's handling of the Henry Louis Gates affair.
Adding insult to injury, there was virtual unanimity that the President erred in this matter, and erred badly (video embedded below the fold with partial transcript):
BRIT HUME: Well, I think Robert Gibbs didn't add a lot, probably trying not to add a lot on this -- on this issue, but, you know, what's striking about this is the president was clearly trying to get this over with, put the firestorm out, and yet, in the end, he couldn't bring himself to actually apologize for himself.
This president who travels the world apologizing for his country couldn't quite apologize for himself. He spoke of not calibrating his words perfectly. He suggested he didn't mean to malign the -- the police officer in question or the Cambridge police department. But he said they acted "stupidly." If you say something like that, you obviously malign them.
So, in the end, this controversy may be nearing an end, but if he had made an outright apology and said he never should have waded into it in the first place, and it wasn't -- shouldn't have been a question of calibrating words; he shouldn't have said any words -- if he'd said that, it would be over. Yet here we are, talking about it still. I don't think he got the -- the job done.
BRET BAIER: Mara?
MARA LIASSON: I think he went a long way to tamp this down. I think the president did something really unusual, and really interesting, in that press conference, which is, usually, he's very, very careful when he talks about race. It's always, kind of, on the one hand; on the other hand. He, kind of, rises above the conflict, puts thing into a context, kind of abstract.
This was very personal. And he reacted, I think, very viscerally. This was a friend of his. He thought the police department shouldn't have arrested him; they acted stupidly. It was really like, almost -- you know, it sounded like a real heartfelt sentiment.
BAIER: And Gibbs said they did prepare for that question.
LIASSON: Yes, yes.
And then, you know, he talked to his advisers and his wife, and he saw the press conference, or he heard about the press conference, at least, from the Cambridge police, and he decided, I think rightly, that he needed to come out again and walk back the word "stupidly," which he did.
You know, he could have said "that was stupid of me to say stupidly."
He invited them both to the White House, which is a very Obama thing to do. That's the kind of thing we're used to. He's going to bring both sides together; there's going to be a teachable moment.
(UNKNOWN): Who's going to get taught?
LIASSON: You know what? Everybody since the initial incident, which Maureen Dowd, I think, rightly said was a mixture of race, class and testosterone -- I mean, everybody is trying to walk down, here. The policeman said he supports Obama 110 percent.
Everybody, I think, needs to climb down. As the president said in his briefing room comments, you know, "Everybody overreacted."
I think the big outcome of this is that this was supposed to be a week when the White House wanted to focus like a laser on health care, and nobody, as the president acknowledged, paid any attention to that.
BILL KRISTOL: You know, I think they should have taken Mara's -- the president should have called Mara instead of talking to Robert Gibbs and others.
And that's a very charming formulation you had, that the president could have said, you know, "That was a stupid thing for me to say." But he can't say that for some reason. You know, that would be too self-deprecating. And I think he is an arrogant man, and he feels entitled to pass judgment on Cambridge cops or on pediatricians who allegedly are referring people to get tonsillectomies, that the cops are stupid; they pediatricians, I suppose, are greedy and venal.
He feels entitled, as president of the United States, to stand up there and pass these judgments. One of them backfires politically, and he tries to walk it back -- oh, everyone should calm down; I'll have them for a beer at the White House.
He can't say that he said something stupid.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, he's going to have to walk it back some way. I mean, obviously, this is politically damaging to him.
BAIER: Even more?
WILLIAMS: Yes, I think there's -- I mean, they're going to have the meeting at the White House, I hear, this week, with Crowley and Gates. And it's just -- the issue's going to continue to boil.
And if you look at the poll numbers that are out, some initial poll numbers indicate -- I think it's, like, 26 percent of Americans think he handled it well. Overwhelmingly, there's been a negative response.
Now, in the black community, I think it's, like, high; 71 percent think that what he said was appropriate. But if you stop and think about this for a second, that means that about a third of black America thinks he didn't handle this well.
And that's, kind of, surprising because, as I can tell you as a black person sitting here, there's a lot of tension between black men and police. And people are, sort of, instinctively given to the idea that, you know, police can overreact quickly.
But in this situation, the president spoke without the facts. And so you can't have a teachable moment if it's based on a lie.
And what happened was the president reacted and spoke -- he spoke about things like racial profiling, and pointed out that he had acted on this as a state legislator.
But, you know what, this was not about racial profiling. This was about a guy breaking into his house. The neighbor appropriately calls the police, who come and respond to that. And once the police come, ask "Who are you," ask "Who else is in the house?" And then Professor Gates, according to the police report, begins to berate the officer, make demands on the officer, talk about his mother, and ask, "Do you know who I am? You don't know who you're dealing with," and continues this even after the president says that Gates is pulled out of his house. In fact, Gates pursues the officer out of his house. The officer, according to the police report -- I might add, there's a black policeman, a Hispanic policeman on the scene, and they corroborate this -- the officer pulls out his handcuffs and tells Gates to stop, and Gates pursues -- continues, persistently, to berate the officer.
Now, you tell me what -- is this an instance of, you know, a poor black kid being, you know, treated badly by a cop, you know, some some kind of police harassment?
No, I don't think so at all. And apparently the president wasn't aware of any of this when he spoke out.
BAIER: And Mr. Gates, in accepting the invitation for the beer, said he really hopes it helps, especially when it comes to the issue of racial profiling.
So you're saying it's going to continue even as this summit continues over the beer at the White House?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know what? It seems to me that, if you bring this issue up -- and this is so key. The president -- part of the president's appeal is that he is a racially healing force in our nation. I think a lot of people voted for him hoping, get us past this point.
Instead, he has injected himself in such a way -- he said he ratcheted it up. He has done such a -- such a disservice to us, in terms of racial understanding, here, that he has hurt the country at this moment and, I think, hurt himself.
HUME: It is testament to the American people's belief that racism is a bad and evil thing, that "racist" is such an insult, such a dirty word. It is really quite a terrible in contemporary America to be labeled a racist or thought a racist because the judgment against it is virtually unanimous. It is unacceptable behavior.
And it is -- unfortunately, that fact has placed into the hands of certain people a weapon. That word itself is a weapon. Note how quickly this professor was to hurl it at this police officer.
And his continued compliant that racial profiling, his insistence that racial profiling was involved here -- he continues to wield this weapon.
This is, as Juan correctly points out, the very kind of thing that one hoped that Barack Obama would get us past, and that the fact that this election would help to get us past.
But that -- as long as that word is hurled around willy-nilly, the way it seems to be, and freely as it is used indiscriminately and unwisely as it was in this case, I think we have a way to go.