Even before they walked into the meeting at the White House on Thursday, the two men at center of the country’s most recent vignette on race and police power were talking and mending fences. Nobody was demanding or giving apologies. After the meeting, Sgt. Crowley said on live TV that he and Prof. Gates had agreed to meet again for discussions on their respective experiences. Gates said “I hope that we can get to know each other better, as we began to do at the White House this afternoon.”

This was the genius of President Obama. Some say it was a mistake for him to have commented on the issue in his national press conference a week ago. Some say this meeting was political damage control.  I disagree.

I can’t say I believe he planned the whole sequence in advance, but he did choose an initial action with wisdom and commitment, and responded to the outcome with another very wise move. This is the mark of a great chess player or a great statesman. We never know for sure where the roads ahead will lead, but the wise leader has the courage to make the better choice, and the flexibility to adjust course when conditions warrant.

I think Obama was exactly right in making those comments in his national press conference. I think it was a necessary and powerful message to the minorities in the country that the guy now in the White House gets it, and he didn’t check his commitment to truth at the door when he got sworn in.  Some may find it upsetting  that issues of race still exist in this country and must be dealt with, but the leader of courage does what is required, even if it makes some uncomfortable.

At this point, we are a better and wiser nation for the President’s actions in this matter. The initial incident in Cambridge, while regrettable, now serves as a “teaching moment” for us all, with the two initial adversaries now looking to, in the words of Prof. Gates, “utilize the great opportunity that fate has given us to foster greater sympathy among the American public for the daily perils of policing on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling on the other hand.”  This would probably not have happened if Obama had simply remained silent on the matter.

World Peace, it is said, begins at home. President Obama has shown exactly what that looks like.