Neither President Obama nor his press secretary would back off from the president's statement Wednesday night that the Cambridge police department acted "stupidly" in arresting Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.
Both Obama and press secretary Robert Gibbs had ample opportunity to say that the word was perhaps too strong. But neither blinked.
Gibbs was repeatedly asked about it during his press briefing yesterday. He prefaced his remarks by saying that Gates was a friend of Obama, and that the president didn't have all the facts. The hope is, of course, that these qualifications might give Obama some cover.
It didn't. The traveling press corps didn't give up. And the press gave Gibbs plenty of chances to back away from the "stupidly" charge.
"Robert, just to be clear, the President doesn't regret the language or his statement last night?" one reporter asked.
"Let me be clear," Gibbs said. "He was not calling the officers stupid, okay? He was ensuring – I think, again, denoting that at a certain point the situation got far out of hand, and I think all sides understand that."
Obama's not on a game show
Did the president want to weigh in? Well, he didn't shy away from it. But Gibbs made it sound like he didn't have a choice.
"I appreciate the ability at nationally televised news conferences to pass on questions like it was a game show," he snipped. "But I haven't been afforded that – I don't think the President has been afforded those possibilities before. But I will certainly pass along your suggestion."
But he does have that ability. As does Gibbs. Gibbs shows he's a master of the dodge-the-question artistry. That's how you become a White House press secretary. It's also how you become a successful politician. You answer the questions you want to answer. You dodge the rest.
The president proved he could do it yesterday afternoon. ABC's Terry Moran caught up with the president and asked him point blank if he regretted saying the Cambridge police department acted stupidly.
"I have to say I am surprised by the controversy surrounding my statement, because I think it was a pretty straightforward commentary that you probably don't need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who's in his own home," he answered.
But did he regret saying the Cambridge police acted stupidly?
"Terry, this is a classic example at a time when we are struggling about health care, energy, we've got two wars going on, issues like this get elevated in ways probably that don't make too much sense," Obama said.
Yes, but did he regret saying the Cambridge police acted stupidly?
"I think that it doesn't make sense with all the problems out there to arrest a guy in his own home if he's not making a serious disturbance," he added.
Republican communications strategist Karen Hanretty told The Vote that Obama's decision to weigh-in on the matter was a "rookie move" and will do nothing but serve as a distraction from his message on health care reform. She says the sooner he addresses the "stupidly" comment, the better – for his own sake.
"Coming on the heels of the Sotomayor confirmation hearings where her controversial ruling against white fire fighters dominated several news cycles, the President would be wise to admit his response to the police officer was too strong and that he doesn't question the integrity of the officer but was merely noting that minorities often face inequitable treatment," Hanretty said.
But this being politics, Hanretty just couldn't resist throwing in a barb.
"Issuing an apology to the police officer shouldn't be difficult for the President, given he's been on a world-wide apology tour of America since taking office," she added.