I don’t need to go into great detail on this; either it bothers you, or it doesn’t.
I strongly suspect there are many of President Obama’s supporters who are bothered, but will never admit it: hence the silence from the mainstream media. I am certain that there are many on the Right who are bothered, but since they are bothered by everything the President does, their annoyance is easy to dismiss. Many, I know, won’t see it, can’t see it, don’t care, and will just turn their attention other matters with a shrug, if that. For my part, I am bothered because I believe that leaders have to be competent and to engender trust by showing good judgment, and I believe the President of the United States has an added obligation to maintain the weight, credibility, and honor of the office, and therefore its strength.
President Obama’s special invitation to ESPN to come to the White House and announce his bracket picks for the NCAA basketball tournament was as frightening a demonstration of tone-deaf leadership malpractice as I have seen, or read about, from any of the 12 U.S. Presidents of my lifetime. It was unnecessary. It sent a terrible message. It looked horrible. It embarrassed the country, and it embarrassed me, as an American.
We have soldiers dying in two wars, a budget stalemate that threatens to shut down the government, a Libyan dictator slaughtering his people while the U.S. dithers, and, of course, a populous nation and ally fighting for its survival in the midst of natural and man-made disasters, and the President appears on television to talk about…basketball.
I think this was irresponsible, and further proves, as I have written before, that Obama has a flat learning curve in the matter of executive leadership, specifically when it comes to acting like a leader when he is not reading a speech. I believe this makes him, his office and the country look insensitive, unfocused, cavalier, and weak.
I wasn’t going to write about this at all. I saw the ESPN appearance, retched, and hoped and prayed that someone not vulnerable to cheap accusations of bias and political point-scoring would do the job for me, but no—only the usual suspects. Then I decided not to write about it because I didn’t like the chorus I’d be singing with. But that would be cowardly.
I am not one of those who begrudges Obama his vacations and his golf games. It’s a killing job, and the President carries his duties with him everywhere anyway, even onto the fairways. And he certainly can indulge his passion for college basketball while dealing with weighty matters of state. Not on TV, however; not while the world is burning, people are dying and everyone is looking to a United States that seems hesitant, conflicted, and passive. That is bad enough. For it to appear that the U.S. is acting like this because the President is thinking about his picks in a basketball tournament is devastating, and no amount of media inattention will change that.
When White House Spokesman Jay Carney was asked if the President’s priorities were “appropriate,” he answered:
“There are crises all the time and for every President. And again, this one is happening halfway around the world, and it is severe and it is important and it is the focus of a great deal of the President’s attention – as are the events in the Middle East; as are the agenda items that he is pursuing to grow the economy and increase jobs in America, make sure we out-innovate, out-build and out-educate the competition in the 21st century. It’s a hard job that requires a lot. It is also important – one of the things I would note that the President did in that very brief interview on ESPN and ESPN2 was ask Americans, as they were filling out their own brackets, take the time to go to usaid.gov and make donations to a variety of charitable organizations that are organizing donations to help the Japanese in this very serious situation that they find themselves in. And so, yes, I do think it was appropriate.’
Does anyone find that reassuring, convincing, or even coherent? It begins with an implied, “well, it’s not THAT big a crisis, after all, Japan is pretty far away,” slides into Carney’s talking points for the day (“grow the economy…jobs…out-innovate”), then notes that the President used his ESPN spot to plug aid to Japan (gee, why not another stern message to Gaddafi while he was at it?) and ends.
“Uh, yes, Jay, but was it appropriate?”
It wasn’t appropriate. It was self-indulgent, insensitive, inept and wrong.
If it doesn’t bother you, good: I’m happy for you. I envy you. I hope the Japanese, and those who look to the U.S. for leadership and resolve see it your way, and that the President’s poor timing and odd detachment will just come off as another example of his fabled cool.
It scares me to death, however, because it shows me a leader that has neither mastered nor understands his job.