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White House Beer Garden

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Both Henry Louis Gates and Sergeant Crowley should get some credit for demonstrating their tenacity at the White House this evening. While President Obama and Vice President Biden ditched their jackets, Gates and Crowley wore them despite the heat and humidity that afflict Washington in the summer. Relaxing in shirt sleeves was supposed to convey the attitude that the meeting was really no big deal, just a few folks, as Obama put it, enjoying a brew at the end of a hard working day.

Of course it was anything but. Most people don't show up in dark suits, as did Gates and Crowley, just to have a beer late at night. Everyone had something to gain from the meeting -- Crowley got to demonstrate he's not some racist ogre, Gates that he can demonstrate some forbearance toward his erstwhile tormentor, Obama that he's not prejudging either party, and Biden... well, what did Biden have to prove? That he could let someone else get in a word edgewise during the confabulation?

For all the oddity of the meeting, there was something touching about the skill with which Obama, after beginning so poorly, managed to unite the formerly bickering parties. George W. Bush wouldn't have invited such adversaries to the White House, let alone been able to crack open a brew or any other alcoholic drink. For all the potshots at Obama as some Ivy League elitist, he wasn't serving Chardonnay, but the common man's drink, while engaging in his favorite, and most popular, role of conciliator.

Whether turning the White House into a beer garden can convert other adversaries into friends is an open question. Alcohol has always been a good presidential lubricant. Richard Nixon used to sail up and down the Potomac in the presidential yacht Sequoia with his chums enjoying a few stiff drinks. Maybe Obama should invite the heads of North and South Korea to his backyard or the presidents of Russia and Georgia to make nice in his backyard, while he pops open a few cold ones.

Perhaps the Gates-Crowley powwow hasn't just opened a new chapter in discussions about race, but also in world history.