"He has bowed to foreign dictators"

— Mitt Romney, Dec. 7, 2011

 “1,584 holes since 2009”

— Romney campaign Web site fortyfore.com


In recent days, the Romney campaign has attacked President Obama on two seemingly trivial matters that seek to undermine his character — his alleged “bowing” to foreign leaders and his propensity to play golf. As the Web site says, “It’s time to have a president whose idea of being ‘hands on’ doesn’t mean getting a better grip on the golf club.”

 So what’s story behind these claims?


Bowing to foreign dictators

 Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said that  “the term ‘bowed to foreign dictators’ is metaphorical but the leaders Obama literally bowed to were the Saudi King, Emperor of Japan, and Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

Hmmm. We had thought that when you level a charge against the president, you try to be factual, not metaphorical.

 Saudi King Abdullah (who is a close U.S. ally) and Chinese President Hu Jintao certainly rule without permitting much dissent, but did Obama bow to them? To some extent, of course, this is in the eye of the beholder. Take a look.

Saudi King Abdullah
Chinese President Hu Jintao

 Frankly, we don’t quite see it, especially with Hu. There is a stronger possibility of a bow with the Saudi king, but the view is obscured, so you have to imagine what happened.

Personally, The Fact Checker, who is shorter than the president, has some sympathy with Obama’s greeting with the Saudi King.

When the Fact Checker met the king in 2010 during a trip with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, some people who viewed the YouTube clip thought that the Fact Checker had bowed to the king. (The clip unfortunately is no longer available on YouTube.)

UPDATE: a clip of meeting the king has been found and is now back on You Tube. Did the Fact Checker bow?

We have no memory of “bowing,” but thought we merely bent down because the king was shorter. That was also what the Obama White House claimed — that the president was taller than King Abdullah.

In contrast, to our eye, Obama appears to be bowing to the emperor of Japan.

Emperor of Japan

 In fact, if Obama is bowing, he is doing it badly — by both bowing and extending a handshake. By contrast, take a look at this picture of President Richard Nixon greeting Emperor Hirohito. Nixon offers a bit of a bow, but no handshake. There also was some controversy when President Bill Clinton appeared to bow to Emperor Akihito. The Clinton White House insisted it was more of a “tilt” than a bow.



Obama’s golf game

 Okay, the president likes to play golf. The Romney campaign drew its statistic from a Fox News report that Obama recently went on the 88th golf outing of his presidency.

 Mark Knoller, the White House correspondent for CBS Radio and the unofficial statistician of such matters, says that figure is correct. (NOTE: Knoller originally said the tally appeared to include a round of mini-golf that the president played with the first lady and daughter Sasha in 2010. But then he rechecked his records and discovered he had ommitted a round on Oct. 8, 2011.)

Knoller also noted that simply multiplying 88 times 18 holes may not be accurate: “We have no way of knowing if he took any mulligans, or he and his foursome played some extra holes on a nice day.”

 By contrast, Knoller says, George W. Bush played golf only 24 times during his presidency. He stopped playing seven months into the Iraq war, saying it was inappropriate during wartime. Bush also may have been embarrassed by this widely viewed video clip: 

But is this really a fair shot against a president? Shouldn’t he have some time to clear his head or get some exercise? The fortyfore.com Web site, saying Obama needs to go on “permanent vacation,” strongly suggests he is a slacker while many Americans are looking for work.

 In fact, a case could be made that Obama is not taking enough time off. Take a look at these vacation statistics provided by Knoller.

 At this point in their presidencies:

 Obama: 11 vacations, totaling all or part of 70 days.

             22 visits to Camp David,  totaling all or part of 54 days.

  Bush:  28 visits to his Texas ranch, totaling all or part of 207 days.

          72 visits to Camp David, totally all or part of 228 days.


The Pinocchio Test

 Both of these appear to be unfair shots, taken out of context. The notion that Obama has “bowed to dictators” is basically false, and it is debatable whether he bowed to any leader but the Japanese emperor. Reasonable people can disagree on what happened with the Saudi and Chinese leaders, but that still does not excuse the blanket statement that Romney made.

 The golfing Web site, while amusing, is also out of bounds. Yes, Obama golfs a lot. But he also has not taken much time off, which is what the Web site strongly suggests when it urges putting Obama on “permanent vacation.”

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