The President Goes to Hollywood

President Obama stepped on toes last week on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." In the banter between the president and Leno about whether he uses the White House bowling alley, Obama made a little joke. Scott Wilson of the Washington Post put it this way, “Saying his improving yet still admittedly lousy bowling game is ‘like Special Olympics or something,’ President Obama offended many disabled Americans, their champions and others who puzzled over how a man who rarely misspeaks could make such a joke. Some of those most upset are among his staunchest supporters.”

First of all, to say the president doesn’t misspeak is wrong.  Whenever he’s off teleprompter, he flubs all too often.  Remember the late night call to the New York Times to clarify things he’s said before?  In fairness, he immediately saw the error of his statement and called Tim Shriver, the head of Special Olympics, and apologized.  Then, one of the top bowlers from the Special Olympics, Tim Mahoney, offered to give him some bowling tips.  If I were President Obama, I’d accept that challenge and bring Mahoney to the White House to show him the ins and outs of bowling.

Initially, I didn’t think this was a very big deal, and, when on the air the next day, I said as much.  I was wrong.  Immediately, I began getting emails and calls, and I had to rethink my position.  Across the spectrum, Obama was being taken to task for his remarks.

Maria Shriver, the First Lady of California and the daughter of Eunice Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics, said, “The President’s apology for his comments and his commitment to bringing the Special Olympics to the White House are important first steps in shedding light on this important issue. Often times we don’t realize that when we laugh at comments like this, it hurts millions of people throughout the world. People with special needs are great athletes and productive citizens, and I look forward to working with the President to knock down myths and stereotypes about this community.” Get ready for sensitivity training from the left, President Obama.

Then Gov. Sarah Palin, who had recently posted on her website a message about Special Olympics, commented by saying, “I was shocked to learn of the comment made by President Obama about Special Olympics, This was a degrading remark about our world’s most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world.”

Mr. President, if you want to joke about Rush Limbaugh or any other person in the spotlight, they can take it. However, to equate children and adults who participate in Special Olympics with your poor bowling score is very bad form. You’ve been in office for two months; the campaign is over, please get to work and quit trying to be loved.  If President Bush had said something like that, the Washington Post would not be lamenting how a man who rarely misspeaks stumbled.  It would be likely they would say Bush was talking about himself.

Do I really think President Obama meant to be insensitive?  No, but I do think it is a window in to the real man.  He looks down at most of us: he’s an elitist. He believes we are not capable of making our own decisions, and he believes government is the answer to everything. He thinks he knows what’s best for us, and that means he’s in trouble.  

This transition is not uncommon for new presidents. There is a big difference between a candidate and a leader.  A leader can never keep all the promises the candidate makes, and voters know that at some level. However, how the candidate transitions is the key.  FDR promised to balance the budget, and it was clear he wasn’t able to do that.  His controlled message, and communications skills got him through.  President Obama is no FDR.

Whenever presidents get in trouble, they hit the road and play their strengths.  President George W. Bush would go to military bases or head to a very Red State.  President Obama heads to Blue States, controlled town hall meetings, and to late night TV. The problem is he overdid it and sounded flip on top of it. The problem with doing things like the tour of California last week is no one knows more about his proposed budget, which was the reason for the trip.  

People know more about his March Madness picks and the faux pas about the Special Olympics than about his budget, and, if I were a conspiracy theorist, I might think he intended it that way.  

But as President Obama told a town hall meeting in Los Angeles, he can multitask. "Somebody was saying the other — today, I think, that I shouldn’t be on Leno. I can’t handle that and the economy at the same time. Listen, here’s what I say. I say our challenges are too big to ignore." Huh?  Is the challenge of being on Leno’s show the equal of our financial crisis?

Some celebrities just think that way, I guess.