The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Obama plays hooky during a perilous time

Even President Obama’s supporters must acknowledge that at times he behaves bizarrely. During the attack on Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya, he barked out a few vague orders and then retreated to his residence, although his spinners insist that he was “briefed.” (How about leading?) The next day, he went to a fundraiser in Las Vegas.

He won’t go to the border to view the humanitarian disaster involving tens of thousands of children. Yesterday, with the downing of a passenger jet, allegedly by Russian weapons, and then the onset of a ground war in Gaza, President Obama was off — to two New York fundraisers.

That’s the best place to find him. He has done almost 400 fundraisers in six years and played 176 rounds of golf. No one thinks presidents should be barred from fundraising or playing golf, but Obama’s excessive, some would say obsessive, attention to activities unrelated to governing is disturbing, all the more so since he seems so disengaged and unpresidential when he does nominally show up for work. He has no discernible Iraq policy, he’s given up on entitlement reform, he won’t make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. His favorite activity (other than golf, fundraising and holding forth at dinners with pop stars and other famous people) is holding campaign-style events at which he rips opponents in nasty and unpresidential tones. He constantly learns about scandals in the press, and then hides from the media until the pressure builds to say something.

He’s not unlike the guy in the office who is never in, seems to take a lot of afternoons off and is expert at avoiding work. Co-workers are amazed he gets away with it.

Unfortunately, this president has 2 1/2 more years of guaranteed employment. And not seeing any problem at all with his presidency, he isn’t taking any visible steps to shake up his staff or reexamine policies. We can speculate whether he is bored, depressed or simply over his head, but the motivation behind his rather jaw-dropping behavior is irrelevant. What does matter is that his aversion to using hard U.S. power has morphed into an aversion to governing. On domestic policy, the economy is listless, but the private sector grinds on; the bureaucracy bobs along, buffeted by serial scandals. But in foreign policy, we’re seeing a near-global meltdown of U.S. influence and the inevitable result – more violence, more aggression by bad actors, more instability and more anxiety about the United States’ ability to shape events. We now go from crisis to crisis, each one more fraught with danger than the last.

It’s not clear that there are any senior wise men or women in the Democratic Party who would pull Obama aside and tell him to get back in the game. And even if such figures existed, chances are slim that he would listen to them. So we enter the most perilous time in international affairs since Sept. 11, 2012, with an absentee president. For the first time, we suspect that the country would be better off with Joe Biden as its leader. Yeah, it’s gotten that bad.