The tussle between a black Harvard scholar and the white police officer who arrested him is turning into a quesion on presidential judgment.

Did President Barack Obama really need to take sides in this particular case?

It was a bit of a surprise this week when he allowed himself to get embroiled in the debate on race sparked by the arrest of Henry Louis Gates right at the end of his prime-time “get healthcare done now” news conference.

The International Brotherhood of Police Officers is furious, accusing the president of alienating public safetly officers across the country. Online polls in Massachusetts also show strong support for the arresting officer.

And suddenly the media have something far juicier to chew on than an occasionally dry debate about the intricacies of public and private health provisions.

“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,” Obama told ABC on Thursday, further fueling the debate.

“My suspicion is that words were exchanged between the police officers and Mr. Gates and that eveybody should have just settled down and cooler heads should have prevailed.”

People’s views on this incident are likely to be shaded by their own experience. Not only blacks and Hispanics, but anyone who has had a brush with an overly zealous police officer, will probably have some sympathy for Gates.

Others who believe the police are doing an extremely difficult job, a public service, under tremendous pressure, will probably see the point of view of Sergeant James Crowley.

The president obvioulsy has his own experience, and his own perspective on this.

Was it good to hear him speaking from the heart, or should he have stood aside and confined himself to the usual politician’s evasion: “I don’t know all the facts” and left it at that?