President Obama was ready with excuses for Chuck Todd when asked on Meet the Press about his decision to immediately head for the golf course after making a statement last month about James Foley, who was murdered by ISIS. By the time Obama was done, you could almost be convinced he had DONE THE RIGHT THING.
The president claims a public relations mistake. But this is really something more profound, and unfortunately, typically disillusioning.
Not that I had illusions.
From the show, which was broadcast Sunday:
CHUCK TODD: I’ve got to ask, so during that vacation, you made the statement on Foley, you went and golfed. Do you want that back?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It is always a challenge when you’re supposed to be on vacation because you’re followed everywhere. And part of what I’d love is a vacation from the press . . .
Because the possibility of a jarring contrast given the world’s news, there’s always going to be some tough news somewhere, it’s going to be there. But there’s no doubt that after having talked to the families, where it was hard for me to hold back tears listening to the pain that they were going through after the statement that I made, that I should’ve anticipated the optics.
That’s part of the job. And I think everybody who knows me, including, I suspect, the press, understands that you take this stuff in and it’s serious business. And you care about it deeply. But part of this job is also the theater of it. Part of it is how are you–
TODD: You hate that you–
OBAMA: Well, it’s not something that always comes naturally to me. But it matters. And I’m mindful of that. So the important thing is in addition to that, is am I getting the policies right? Am I protecting the American people? Am I doing what’s necessary?
What self-serving goop.
This man, who gave a speech at the Berlin Wall before being elected, for God’s sake, claims not to understand political theater. What he is telling us is, I’m so much better than optics and phoniness. But I realize I have to descend into phoniness sometimes, and it’s my bad for not lowering myself to the task.
Let’s review what happened here. From the pool report for that day:
The president walked quietly into the cafeteria of the school, tieless but wearing a blue jacket. Eric Schultz accompanied him. Obama stepped to a podium and delivered his remarks, then turned quietly and walked out of the room. The room was silent as he did.
Afterward, the motorcade drove to the Vineyard Golf Club.
He’s was on the golf course within minutes of a solemn statement. In fact, he made the statement as close as possible to the club, so there would be no delay.
This wasn’t about optics. This was a failure of leadership. You don’t console the country with a tribute to a murdered American and then go golfing. I don’t remember Bush making excuses about being uncomfortable with “optics” after he did this.
Obama failed to own up to his mistake. The president talks about having tears in his eyes while on the phone with Foley’s family, to prove that he in fact does care. What he doesn’t understand is that this is not about him. It’s about the country.
None of his presidency should be about him, but all of it is.
Obama’s problem is not that he is better than a mere politician. His problem is that he doesn’t appreciate and understand the office he holds.
If you are a leader, you lead. If you care about the job of President of the United States, it wouldn’t occur to you to make an important statement to a shocked and saddened nation, and then hit the links.
You might even forgo golf for a whole day, who knows?