Are We Really Teed Off at Obama’s Golfing?

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Shortly after he angrily denounced the obscene beheading of freelance journalist James Foley by a member of the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a smiling President Barack Obama was photographed playing golf. And so it started — just like clockwork.

Obama’s not really working… He’s ignoring the country’s crises.. He doesn’t really care about Foley… The optics are bad.

In reality, everyone knows the expressions of outrage over Obama’s golf and smile were part of an ongoing media and political ballet. It’s part of a dance with highly predictable moves, even though some ostensibly go ballistic if it’s called precisely what it is.

It brings to mind two old jokes about ballet. A guy goes to a ballet for the first time. His friend asks him what he thought of it. “It was OK. But why don’t they just get taller girls?” The second one: “When I went to Moscow I saw the ballet.” “Bolshoi?” “Naw, I’m not kidding ya…”

You watch this ballet and wonder: why don’t people just call this what it is? A ballet.

Fox News filled lots of air time mentioning Obama’s golf, reaching its crescendo with a suggestion by The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld, who won the Self Absorption Award of 2014: “Maybe he was not planning on golfing after that grim press conference, but chose to because some expressed concern he would,” Gutfeld said. Â “Does Obama golf because [Fox News] says not to? Does he do everything because FNC says not to?”Rush Limbaugh replayed his comment from 2008 when he had warned listeners that Obama was “cold” and “devoid of passion” and like a “programmed robot.” At least the conservative site Protein Wisdom put its views in clever knock-knock joke form about the group that butchered Foley: “‘Knock knock, Mr. President.’ ‘Who’s there?’ ‘ISIS. Or ISIL. Your choice.’ ‘ISIS or ISIL who?’ The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd did an excruciatingly trite take-off column having Obama do the Gettysburg Address as “The Golf Address.”

Forbes’ ‘Rick Ungar, who usually supports Obama, said Obama failed to grasp America’s collective pain. From the New York Daily News, to The Hill, publications ran stories seemingly shocked about Obama playing golf after making the announcement. Buzzfeed ran seven photos of Obama playing golf. The Week reported that Democrats felt Obama was “tone deaf” when he went to play golf. The White House countered that Obama played golf to clear his head.

Some realities:

1. All Presidents have had their leisure activities and didn’t pursue them because they had nothing to do or weren’t working. Teddy Roosevelt rode horses, wrestled and boxed in the White House. JFK sailed. Ronald Reagan chopped wood. Dwight Eisenhower’s golfing gave Bob Hope material for years. Yes, George W. Bush golfed.

2. The people going after Obama on golf know full well he wasn’t halting his work and cared about Foley. They get political donations, readers, viewers, and can hurt partisans on the other side if it’s framed as a big deal.

3. There is a valid news story in negative reactions to him playing golf, but it got lost in the gleeful political, snark and derision fests.

4. Our politics is highly toxic and this underscores no matter how serious a subject, Americans can’t focus on unifying on a big issue. The fun-and-games narrative itself becomes “the ball” and obscures or belittles serious policy issues (like Obama’s comments’ actual content).

5. The bulk of Americans would not accuse any President of not doing his job or caring if he played after making a grim announcement. But many Americans now take their cues (and many opinions) from what their favorite ideological talker or writer says or writes, or by a viewpoint communicated to them in a news story.

You might now suggest that all of this will change because the partisanship and follow-the-narrative media stories are so excruciatingly predictable. And to that I say: Bolshoi.


Copyright 2014 Joe Gandelman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

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  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Good analysis of a bunch of Bolshoi, Joe.

  • JSpencer

    Ditto what Dorian said. I think we all want our president to be healthy, balanced and clear-headed. A life consisting exclusively of crisis management would burn anyone out and render them useless in fairly short order.

  • dduck

    I don’t think we have to worry about Obama burning himself out, he still has plenty of fund raising to do. His cabinet and staff, I’m not so sure.

  • sheknows

    Thanks Joe. I echo Dorian and JS as well.
    At any given moment there are terrible things happening in this country and abroad. Everyone is entitled to a vacation, though others think not. ( yet had no problem allowing a do nothing congress a vacation while the fate of refugees hangs in the balance).

    Perhaps he should be interrupted at the dinner table too

  • rudi
  • rudi

    Of course Karl Rove and w would never put fund raising ahead of governance.
    http://www.salon.com/2014/07/10/karl_roves_ridiculous_hypocritical_attack_on_obamas_fundraising/

  • rudi

    Even Lincoln left Washington to take vacations during the Civil War.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-presidential-vacations/2014/08/15/2aa969c6-2311-11e4-958c-268a320a60ce_story.html

    Even during the Civil War, historian Matthew Pinsker points out, President Abraham Lincoln spent 25 percent of his time, including fully half of 1862, at the Soldiers’ Home near Washington’s Petworth and Park View neighborhoods. Pinsker says Lincoln especially enjoyed going there on hot days because the cottage where he stayed was shaded and the slightly higher elevation picked up cool breezes absent from the White House.

    There seems to be no correlation between vacation days and a president’s legacy. No modern president took less vacation than Jimmy Carter (79 days), while Ronald Reagan spent 335 days at his beloved California ranch. President John F. Kennedy spent nearly every weekend of his shortened presidency at one of his family’s several properties. FDR made 134 trips to Hyde Park and spent an additional six months of his presidency in Warm Springs, Ga., where he treated symptoms of his polio. Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage while vacationing at Warm Springs on April 12, 1945.

  • dduck

    If they all did it, it must be OK. After all we are slaves to the past.

  • Marsman

    dduck has a good point about fund-raising. In 2012, each candidate spent more than a billion smackers. If a fund-raising event, a speech, or a dinner raised a million which seems a lot to me, each candidate would have to spend 70% of their four year term doing nightly fund-raisers. This is not possible, of course. Megadonors become more and more important.
    We may think that the government belongs to Dems or Repubs, liberals or conservatives, but I fear that it is increasingly going to belong to the stratospheric money people. Can this be changed?
    As far as the golf thing, I phoned my rabbi. Obama is not close enough to Foley to sit shiveh.

  • http://www.coachkp.com Kevin Purcell

    One thing I have learned here over the last few years; the old ‘they all do it, so it’s okay’ citations are not okay at TMV.

    Lets take one at a time.

    dduck and Gutfeld are funny. Political cartons are funny. Get a sense of humor.

    On the golfing, I am fully behind the president finding rest (emotionally or physically). I swear to gawd this man’s adrenals must be blown out and there is no cortisol left to tap into. He needs rest. The guy has aged twenty years in the last eight.

    Ten years ago, when I thought my daughter might not survive her cancer I rode my bike long hours listening to music on my ear buds. Then I came home and played the strong man who knew she would survive. He is a human … being.

    Please, Keep On Truckin’ president Obama.

  • http://www.coachkp.com Kevin Purcell

    As far as the golf thing, I phoned my rabbi. Obama is not close enough to Foley to sit shiveh.

    Marsman, that’s what I am talking about!

    CLASSIC :)

  • slamfu

    Watching people get upset over a President on “vacation” just makes me shake my head. Is a President every really on vacation? Someone somewhere in the world is dying at any given moment, there is always some sort of crisis, but Presidents have to shower and shave and poop and yes even take some time to relax. But it’s not like there isn’t a mobile situation room that goes with him more or less wherever he goes. Just silly.

  • The_Ohioan

    The optics weren’t great. Tough, disgusted, bellicose statements followed within 15 minutes by smiling, laughing, and joking. And optics do have some small (not small enough) importance.

    However, I’d rather see such righteous indignation directed toward the banksters and loan sharks who got away with bringing down the economy, CIA chief Rodriguez who got away with destroying the torture tapes, and Supremes that persist in unethical behavior and get away with it.

    Such perverse outrage is so meaningless as to be …. outrageous; maybe even dimwitted.

  • http://www.coachkp.com Kevin Purcell

    Such perverse outrage is so meaningless as to be …. outrageous; maybe even dimwitted.

    Si, si … beuno

  • http://www.coachkp.com Kevin Purcell

    We all understand music. It is probably the greatest brain therapy know to man.

    I am a long time fan ‘Tenacious D’.

    I saw these two guys last year as part of a concert fund raiser for victims of childhood cancer.

    Will Ferrell was the lead and there were fifteen others; but Jack Black and Kyle stood out.
    They looked identical to the video. Literally. And played live absent the electric guitar. Very loud.

    The song reminds me of Dems and Repubs :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lK4cX5xGiQ

    You know, “the best candidate in the world” … or are a tribute.