by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Ron Fournier is no fan of President Obama’s reaction to recent foreign policy crises, as he explains in his latest National Journal report, headlined “Is the White House Lying or Just Bad at Crisis Communications?”
President Obama’s decision to stick with his schedule of fundraisers and photo opportunities amid twin foreign policy crises elicited one of the strangest statements you’ll ever see from a White House.
“It is rarely a good idea to return to the White House just for show, when the situation can be handled responsibly from the road,” said Jennifer Palmieri, the White House communications director. “Abrupt changes to his schedule can have the unintended consequence of unduly alarming the American people or creating a false sense of crisis.”
Where do I start?
First, the phrase “just for show” is indicative of the Obama White House conceit that their guy is above politics. The fact is, all presidents do things just for show, because the office is inherently political, and one of the levers of power can be found in the public theater. Think of Abraham Lincoln’s split rails, William McKinley’s front porch, Theodore Roosevelt’s whistle-stops, Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats—oh, and Barack Obama’s entire 2008 campaign, not to mention his “bear-on-the-loose” jaunts with ordinary Americans.
The hypocrisy is staggering. How is playing pool and drinking beer with the governor of Colorado not “just for show”? Obama and his team consistently respond to criticism by dismissing the media’s focus on “optics,” even as they craft and control the president’s image more aggressively than perhaps any previous White House.
Second, while Palmieri is correct that gutting a presidential schedule is rarely a good idea, there are times when it is. You could make an argument that Thursday was one such time, when the Gaza Strip erupted with violence and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allies shot a passenger plane from the sky. A president can bring calm and clarity to a confusing situation, or he can add to public anxiety.
About the time a Russian news agency reported 23 Americans were aboard the downed liner—a report that was responsibly attributed and distributed by U.S. news agencies—Obama was ordering lunch with a single mother at the Charcoal Pit in Delaware. …
… The third problem with Palmieri’s quote is the most obvious—”unduly alarming the American people or creating a false sense of crisis.”
Unduly alarming? False sense of crisis? A ground war in the Middle East and raining bodies over Ukraine are cause for alarm. These were no false crises—no more than the string of second-term controversies that have undermined Obama’s credibility are “false scandals.”