Bill Burton, former Obama aide and current spinner for the White House, is miffed that people are upset about President Obama’s vacations. Well, if Burton learned anything from Obama, it is how to make a straw-man argument.
Few people object to the president getting downtime. What they object to is three-fold:
First, Burton should know better than anyone that the visual juxtaposition of commenting (but doing nothing more than issuing empty platitudes) on the savage murder of James Foley and yet another round of golf is jarring. Actually, it’s in poor taste (like Bill Clinton laughing as he exited his longtime friend Ron Brown’s funeral, before realizing he was on camera). In case Burton is genuinely confused (as opposed to faking obliviousness), it demonstrates a lack of real remorse to be seen indulging in fun-loving activities directly after such a grave announcement. It suggests a lack of true empathy and unwillingness to forgo personal pleasures even in somber situations. But surely Burton knows this, right?
President George W. Bush surely understood this, which is why he gave up golf during the war. It just struck him as inappropriate to be gallivanting around a golf course when young men and women were dying. But then Barack Obama is no George W. Bush.
Second, criticism about Obama’s time away from the job also focuses on incessant fundraising, sometimes in lieu of performing his job. He went fundraising, but not to the border in Texas. He went to a Las Vegas fundraiser, rather than stay in the White House to oversee the aftermath of the attack in Benghazi, Libya. In that case, it appeared a vain effort to distance himself from the scene of a foreign policy debacle.
But the root of the problem, as Burton concedes, is whether you are “doing your job.” And that’s the rub. The president, about 60 percent of the public agrees, isn’t doing his job, especially in his most important role as commander in chief. If he had not done a 180, erased his own red line and passively allowed events to unfold in Syria and the Islamic State to expand, few would care about his golf game. If he had moved swiftly, enacted sector-wide sanctions and refused to accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the media probably wouldn’t focus on his golf game. Had he left troops in Iraq and maintained the stable environment his predecessor handed him, the golf griping would be minimal.
The media like visuals and easily understood symbolism (isn’t that how Obama got himself elected twice?), so the golf game becomes a metaphor, if you will, for his lackadaisical and irresponsible approach to national security. Sometimes a golf game is just a golf game, but sometimes it visually encapsulates a failing president who is in over his head and lacks the humility and honesty to recognize failure and correct course.
Burton is doing the president no favors in continuing the transparent spinning. The president has an abundance of zealous sycophants. What he needs is tough love from people on whom he has relied. If Burton really cared about the Obama legacy, he’d stop playing into the president’s weakness for self-pity and instead dispense some basic advice: Hire new advisers. Develop in concert with the House and Senate a strategy for destroying the Islamic State. Level with the American people about the threat we face. Fund the military sufficiently to address the world as it is. Now, that would be a service to the president and to the country.