Obama expresses grief by golfing, or something
The internal newsletter of the Democrat Party, which makes itself available to outsiders under the name “The New York Times,” field-tests the most pitiful spin ever attempted. We know you’re in the bag for this failing Administration, guys, but you can still exercise some discretion over which emailed White House talking points you build into “news” stories. You’d have been doing your man a favor by scuttling this one:
He had just hung up the telephone with the devastated parents before heading in front of the cameras. Unusually emotional, President Obama declared himself “heartbroken” by the brutal murder of an American journalist, James Foley, and vowed to “be relentless” against Islamic radicals threatening to kill another American.
But as soon as the cameras went off, Mr. Obama headed to his favorite golf course on Martha’s Vineyard, where he is on vacation, seemingly able to put the savagery out of his mind. He spent the rest of the afternoon on the links even as a firestorm of criticism erupted over what many saw as a callous indifference to the slaughter he had just condemned.
Presidents learn to wall off their feelings and compartmentalize their lives. They deal in death one moment and seek mental and physical relief the next. To make coldhearted decisions in the best interest of the country and manage the burdens of perhaps the most stressful job on the planet, current and former White House officials said, a president must guard against becoming consumed by the emotions of the situations they confront. And few presidents have been known more for cool, emotional detachment than Mr. Obama.
Yet the juxtaposition of his indignant denunciation of terrorists and his outing on the greens this week underscored the unintended consequences of such a remove. If Mr. Obama hoped to show America’s enemies that they cannot hijack his schedule, he also showed many of his friends in America that he disdains the politics of appearance. He long ago stopped worrying about what critics say, according to aides, and after the outcry over Wednesday’s game, he defied the critics by golfing again on Thursday, his eighth outing in 11 days on the island.
Obama was “seemingly able to put the savagery out of his mind?’ “Many” saw his utterly outrageous insistence on making a tee time fifteen minutes after his little statement as “callous indifference?” That would be most rational people on Earth, Timesmen. It would be far more accurate to say that a few of Obama’s most partisan and dedicated defenders struggled to explain why the President’s golf outing was not both unseemly, and a bad signal to send friends and foes around the world.
And then the Times tries to help out by suggesting a fresh spin for Obama defenders: he’s golfing and partying as a gesture of defiance to both terrorists and his domestic critics. I invite you to try – I mean, really try, sit there quietly for a few minutes and let your mind slip fully into the clouds of conjecture – and imagine media outlets even suggesting that a Republican president’s irresponsible, self-indulgent behavior was such a gesture of defiance. You can’t do it. Even if J. K. Rowling is reading this, she can’t do it. There are limits to even the most bountiful imagination.
These introductory paragraphs are followed by a few lines citing negative reactions – “Democrats shook their heads at what they considered a judgment error,” although apparently none of them explained why, and there’s a reference to the brutal New York Daily News front-page story from the other day – and then we get this howler:
“As a general rule, I think that he’s right that you can’t be held hostage to the news cycle — the man deserves a bit of downtime,” said Jim Manley, a longtime Democratic strategist. “But in this particular instance, I think a lot of Democrats flinched a little bit.”
The video, Mr. Manley added, “was just so shocking that the idea that he was going to immediately run to the golf course was just a little too much for folks; it was tone-deaf.”
Mr. Obama has traditionally resisted what he sees as the empty political gesture of abruptly upending his schedule in reaction to the latest crisis. Aides said the golf game did not reflect the depth of his grief over Mr. Foley, noting that the president had just spoken with his parents that morning. “His concern for the Foleys and Jim was evident to all who saw and heard his statement,” said Jennifer Palmieri, the White House communications director.
“The man deserves a bit of downtime?” What else does he do but entertain himself at taxpayer expense? He’s constantly on vacation, and he makes a point of taking incredibly expensive vacations that uproot hundreds of people and send gigantic motorcades around the nation and world, instead of using Camp David as both his Republican and Democrat predecessors tended to do. He’s up to 191 rounds of golf for his presidency, far more than any President before him, more than several of his predecessors combined. It is sheer malpractice for a media organization to leave a comment like “the man deserves a bit of downtime” lying there without informing readers of just how much downtime he’s been gobbling up. But the New York Times doesn’t do that; instead, they make the ritual invocation of George W. Bush taking heat for golfing. At least they deserve credit for noting that Bush realized “such scenes sent a bad message” and stopped. So what’s Obama’s excuse, again?
No one is working through any “depth of grief” when he’s on the links, smiling and enjoying himself, less than half an hour after delivering an allegedly “tough” statement that was actually weak and filled with moldy chunks of thoughtless rhetoric, but delivered with a bit of angry quivering. During that statement, Obama said of Foley’s beheading, “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and what they do ever single day.” He wouldn’t sit in His golf cart either, champ.
The point of this discussion about “optics” is not to establish that Obama feels bad about the savage murder of James Foley by ISIS, although it’s telling that so many of his defenders seem to think it’s necessary for him to demonstrate basic human responses, and feel he deserves applause for getting over that threshold. He’s the President of the United States, and even more than most politicians, he’s all about emotional manipulation and communication through gestures. He’s a master of gesture liberalism, the belief that polices are an expression of morality, and only the announcement of a billion-dollar program to combat something proves that you really care about it. He also leans heavily on the other major argument of gesture liberalism, which is that the utter failure of a policy doesn’t matter, as long as it was implemented with good intentions by The Right People.
And the policy of this Administration is to treat Foley’s murder as a criminal offense, with the ISIS head-choppers as perps, not military enemies. Hapless State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf (mocked with brio over at Twitchy) was dispatched to insist that the Islamic State is not at war with America, no matter how often they declare war on us, and they’re not Muslims, no matter how loudly they assert themselves as masters of Islam… and no matter that thousands of Muslims from around the world are answering their call to battle:
Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Thursday that the Justice Department would open a criminal investigation into the murder of James Foley, even as American aircraft continue launching strikes against ISIS targets. Isn’t that a bit like prosecuting the Empire of Japan for vandalism after that unpleasant business at Pearl Harbor? Fox News reports:
Holder, during remarks in Washington, confirmed the “open criminal investigation” into Foley’s beheading, which was recorded and posted online this week.
“Those who would perpetrate such acts need to understand something — this Justice Department, this Department of Defense, this nation, we have long memories and our reach is very wide,” Holder said. “We will not forget what happened, and people will be held accountable, one way or the other.”
The remarks seemed to leave open the possibility of military action to seek justice in Foley’s killing. The pursuit of a criminal probe, though, immediately raises questions about how investigators will be able to operate.
“This is more nonsense,” Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., an Iraq war veteran, said in a statement to FoxNews.com. “What’s most aggravating is that either in Foley’s situation, or the other Americans in captivity, the Defense Department is being forced to take a backseat to the FBI and DOJ.”
The administration also faced Republican criticism from some corners for pursuing a criminal investigation into the Benghazi terror attack in 2012. One suspect in that probe, Ahmed Abu Khatallah, was captured by U.S. forces in June and brought to the U.S. for a civilian court prosecution.
Yes, that whole “criminal investigation into Benghazi” worked out swimmingly, didn’t it? After a couple of years, one guy was captured. Meanwhile, you might have noticed the Obama-friendly media doesn’t talk about Libya much any more. There’s a very good reason for that: it’s an unholy disaster. Iraqis, and their neighbors, had better hope Obama’s handling of Libya doesn’t foreshadow their fate.
Treating ISIS like the gangs that run amok in Chicago on any given weekend, while simultaneously carrying out military actions against them, is a way to reframe the Iraq crisis politically, forcing it into a holding pattern while the air-traffic controllers in the White House crisis-control tower figure out what to do with it. It’s actually a form of gesture government: See, we’re doing something about this, Eric Holder is on the case. It’s certainly not a frame job that will matter much to the Islamic State, any more than it mattered to the warlords and terrorists of Libya. ISIS doesn’t care if you treat them like a small gang of hoodlums and insist they’re not a big enough threat to declare war against.
Not everyone in the Administration is buying this political engineering, either. A few months ago, the clueless Barack Obama dismissed ISIS as the “junior varsity” of al-Qaeda. Yesterday, his Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, said they’re a far greater threat than the scurvy crew that pulled off 9/11, a threat “beyond anything that we’ve seen,” as related by The Hill:
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is beyond “just a terrorist group” and poses a greater threat than Al Qaeda, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday.
“This is beyond anything that we’ve seen,” he said during a briefing on Thursday afternoon about the Sunni militant group that has taken over territory in Iraq and Syria and earlier this week beheaded American journalist James Foley.
“ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen,” Hagel said. “They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded.”
“So we must prepare for everything. And the only way you do that is that you take a cold, steely, hard look at it…and get ready,” he said.
That doesn’t sound like a job for the Attorney General who claimed he didn’t notice Operation Fast and Furious until after it killed a U.S. Border Patrol agent, now does it?
The media culture might be souring on Obama a bit – I guarantee you there were audible gasps in newsrooms around the country when pool reporters announced Obama arriving at that golf course fifteen minutes after his Foley statement – but they’ll still do him the enormous service of failing to build a Narrative around his irresponsibility, self-indulgence, and desperate desire to get away from anyone who might ask him tough questions while the world burns around him. There aren’t going to be comedy skits on late-night shows mocking his “golf therapy,” or envisioning an episode of “CSI” set in occupied Mosul. It wasn’t long ago that comedians were still giving interviews in which they claimed there is nothing funny about Obama, no flaws that can be satirized, nothing worthy of the jester’s candy-coated scorn.
Obama isn’t taking a well-earned vacation, expressing his grief by golfing, or making a bold statement against his critics by refusing to get back to work. He’s hiding. He’s in far over his head, and he’s scared to death that more Americans will come to understand that ISIS is a crisis of his making, a direct result of his policy failures and ideological blindness. If he engages, he’ll have to answer questions, and make decisions that will highlight is inability to understand what he’s dealing with, as his Foley Tee Time statement did. Playing for time has helped him escape scandals that would sink other presidencies, so he’s back to that strategy, hoping that the news cycle will roll along, giving short-attention-span Americans something else to focus on. We’re bathed in media, but we can only focus on one story at a time, for a week or two at most, unless the media works very hard to keep issues running in the background of our national system. Obama and his political team have cynically, and successfully, exploited this many times before. The thing is, I suspect ISIS will not allow themselves to be forgotten after the next round of Sunday shows.