(Cape Cod, Massachusetts) – I spent most of Saturday on Cape Cod, which was full of vacationers. President Obama and his family remain just across the water from here for their annual vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. Every President (spouse and kids, too), deserves a vacation! But sometimes what a President does on the job, (or on vacation), shows a certain tone deafness to the public. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:
“Fore-getaboutit!” – President Obama has taken his share of criticism for how much he plays golf (as have many of his predecessors). Hey I can’t begrudge any of them for wanting to get out on the links and blow off stress, but sometimes the criticism is warranted. This past Wednesday the President held a news conference to condemn the murder of American journalist James Foley at the hands of ISIS terrorists. After the briefing he went right out to play golf with former basketball star Alonzo Mourning (photo above). To many people, it just seemed insensitive and out of touch. It’s a round he should have cancelled! Had he waited one more day to golf, few would have cared.
“The Plane They Call the City of New Orleans” – In September 2005, President George W. Bush flew to a long-scheduled fundraiser in San Diego. In the process, he flew over – but did not stop in – Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. Look, I realize that Air Force One is a “flying White House!” A President can launch a war from there; or sign any emergency order to provide aid in a national disaster. He can put in motion everything New Orleans needed from 35,000 feet, but it’s hard to demonstrate the symbolism of compassion and caring from that altitude. Yes, he should have cancelled the fundraiser and landed in Louisiana. He went there later in the week, after much public outcry. Had he made a similar gaffe just a year earlier, he would have lost his 2004 reelection.
“It’s Impeachment; Not a Pep Rally” – One thing Presidents have to remember is that they have the job of President, but they also must represent the institution and office of the Presidency. They don’t own the job or the institution; but they are guardians of it. So on December 19, 1998 when President Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, Democrats responded by throwing what amounted to a pep rally for the President at the White House. Good lord, the country was facing a Constitutional crisis, not cheering sides in the Super Bowl. I get that Democrats wanted to rally around their leader, but it came off as smug and arrogant, and not befitting the dignity of the office. I know many Democrats who were appalled that they were pressured to participate. It was one of those occasions where the White House should have just issued a printed statement saying the President would vigorously fight the charges.
“Who Cares About the Price of Gas?” – President George H.W. Bush was also guilty of a bad public relations gaffe. In June of 1989, with gasoline prices spiking, the President was vacationing at his family’s compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Again, we shouldn’t begrudge any President who needs a breather from probably the most stressful job on Earth. Quite honestly, I’d be more concerned about a President who did not take a vacation at all. But in this case, the President was photographed and videotaped speeding around in his cigarette boat. It looked like a blast, but they are expensive and gas-guzzling boats. I forget what gasoline was a gallon back then – cheap compared to now I am sure – but average folks were struggling to fill their own tanks. As with some of the other instances cited here, the President simply looked insensitive and out of touch.
“They’re Called the Olympic Games; Not the Political Games” – In the summer of 1980, President Jimmy Carter would not allow Team U.S.A. to participate in the Olympic Games in Moscow. This was a protest over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. What was meant as a punishment against the Soviets, turned instead into a punishment of the U.S. athletes and the viewing public. If we truly wanted to show up the Soviets, we could have gone and kicked their tails on the athletic field, just as Black American track star Jesse Owens did to Adolf Hitler during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Instead, Carter made himself (and the country) look petty and weak. He lost the 1980 election; and the U.S.S.R. then countered by boycotting the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
“Why All of This Matters!” – Yes, most of a President’s job is about public policy, but some of it is also about public relations. Sure a President can issue billions of dollars in emergency aid with the stroke of a pen; but it’s quite another thing to go stand knee-deep in water to hug a crying victim. The President isn’t just Commander in Chief; he is also Consoler in Chief. I know it is politics by photo-op, but it matters. People want to know you care, and sometimes the only way to do that is eyeball-to-eyeball. It is a pitfall that hits most Presidents, regardless of party. I worry sometimes that the trappings of the White House, Air Force One, and the access-only to the wealthy and influential simply insulate a President and make them insensitive to the plight of ordinary folks.
Let me know what you think? Are you concerned that President’s lose touch, the deeper they get into the job? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.
© 2014, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.
Photo courtesy: AOL News