Only in America: A white Cambridge police officer arrests of a defiant black Harvard professor on egregious charges that are later dropped. Claims of racial profiling and verbal abuse follow, as does an uncouth presidential intervention, and a requisite presidential near-apology, yielding coast-to-coast water cooler debate. All the most explosive issues are at play: A racially-charged hiccup for the first black man in the White House. A class conflict between town and gown. The evergreen question of police respect and abuse.
So what do we make of it–us in to the national media, the White House communications office, and other participants in this made for TV drama? We turn it into a question of beer brands. Seriously.
On Thursday, the three principal players in this drama will sit at a picnic table outside the Oval Office. It is not entirely clear what they will talk about. Will they seek to hash out the factual disputes about what happened? Exchange apologies? Speak broadly about race, law and the media? Talk about the weather? Nevermind–because we do know something even more important. Each man will be drinking a beer.
Just what kind of beer is a matter of some speculation. The president, who is not much of a drinker, recently drank a Budweiser at the All Star Game, allows White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs, who has nonetheless declined to identify the Thursday choice of brew. The Cambridge officer, Sgt. James Crowley, has told the president he likes Blue Moon, a wheat beer often served with fruit. The professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr., has told the Boston press he likes the European lager Beck’s or the Bohemian-bottled Red Stripe, from Jamaica. What shall they do? If they can’t even agree on the beer, what can they agree on?
[UPDATE at 4:20 p.m.: This afternoon on Air Force One, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs revealed the beer selection for the picnic table gathering: "The President will drink Bud Light. As I understand it -- I have not heard this, I've read this, so I'll just repeat what I've read, that Professor Gates said he liked Red Stripe, and I believe Sergeant Crowley mentioned to the President that he liked Blue Moon. So we'll have the gamut covered tomorrow afternoon. I think we're still thinking, weather permitting, the picnic table out back."]
The next step is obvious: Everyone jumps on board. The microbrewers declare their preference for beer with taste. The nativists point out the foreign ownership of Bud. The class scholars wonder what it means that the cop wants a beer that goes with fruit.
For days now, the White House has gamely, and with some bashful pleasure, put up with this game. It has led to moments of absurdity, like this exchange between Fox News’s Wendell Goler, Gibbs and another reporter at the daily briefing Monday.
GIBBS: What’s wrong with Budweiser? Why do you hate Budweiser?
GIBBS: Why do you hate Budweiser, Wendell? This is…
GIBBS: I don’t — I don’t…
GIBBS: Wendell, how about this? How about you and I, we’ll go pick out the beer, we’ll do the beer run? Uh-oh. Oh, please.
GIBBS: The mortgage servicers meeting is tomorrow. Apparently this has nothing to do…
Unclear whether beer will be served at that meeting and what it will be. So…
GIBBS: So we’ll go on the beer run together and pick it up in anticipation of the meeting.
GIBBS: Say again?
QUESTION: Pretzels or chips?
GIBBS: No, we’re just going to go straight beer, so no sense in diluting it. Yes?
If you find all this tough to follow, don’t worry about it. None of it matters. What matters is that the pictures will be good, perfect for summertime, and everyone will know that the various factions “shared a beer.” The beer is the “MacGuffin”–like the statue in the Maltese Falcon, the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, the AllSpark in Tranformers–a meaningless object to move along the plot. The key thing to remember is that one day before the Picnic-table summit we still don’t know where the plot is heading. Will Gates and Crowley find common ground? Will Obama reestablish his role as primarily a mediator between racial and class tribes, not participant in the conflict?
Buy a six pack, sit back and wait to find out.