This can no longer be called a rookie mistake, like the Prof. Gates arrest affair. President Obama has now had plenty of time to absorb the fact that the President does not have a blank check to insert himself into every local controversy and use his office to sway public opinion and the conduct of others regarding matters outside his responsibilities. Still, he continues to do it.
It may seem trivial at first: the President gave an interview on TNT in which he pointedly suggested that NBA superstar LeBron James consider the Chicago Bulls as he faces free agency. After weighing in on the most important things for James to seek from his current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, if he was going to stay there, the President said, “You know, like I said, I don’t want to meddle. I will say this: (Derrick) Rose, Joakim Noah it’s a pretty good core. You know, you could see LeBron fitting in pretty well there.”
An African-American President suggesting a switch of teams to a prominent African-American superstar is more than meddling; it’s an abuse of power and position. Whether LeBron James stays in Cleveland or not is a serious matter for the Cavaliers franchise and also the city of Cleveland. The President of the United States should not be planting ideas, taking sides, or promoting one American city against the interests of another.
But apparently not obvious enough for Barack Obama. His failure to grasp the simple concept that the President of the United States is not a special advocate for specific parts of the country is just part of the problem. Obama has condemned a reasonable state law passed by democratic means while misrepresenting its provisions; he has attacked Supreme Court decisions that were competently argued and well-reasoned; he has presumed the guilt of corporations while investigations were ongoing; and he, most memorably, called a Cambridge police officer “stupid” when he had scant information about the event in question. If his comments pointing LeBron James to his beloved Chicago were an isolated gaffe, I would agree with the inevitable commenters who are going to say, “Come on–this is no big deal.” It is a trend, however, and the symptom of a mindset that is alarming in a democratically elected leader.
The “bully pulpit” is not to be used recklessly, for blatantly political purposes or for issues that should not concern the President of the United States. To do so is to degrade one of the most important tools of Presidential power. When the President expresses an opinion, the public has to believe that the opinion is fair, reasonable, serious, and of national importance. A President who thinks it is his place to sway contract negotiations between a privately owned basketball franchise and a premiere athlete raises troubling suspicions that he…
- Doesn’t understand his job,
- Does not comprehend the appropriate use of power,
- Does not recognize the extent of his ability to influence others,
- Does not respect the rights of private businesses to do business without gratuitous interference from the government,
- Believes that the he has been elected is some kind of ultimate arbiter-supervisor-Big Brother-dictator. King, perhaps.
He has not. There are limits to presidential power, and many of them involve good judgment, humility, and self-control. After almost a year and a half in the job, President Obama shows no signs that he has learned this, and it is worrisome.