The consensus has formed: President Obama should have visited the border to take a firsthand look at the influx of Central American migrants. Democratic Reps. Luis Gutierrez, Beto O’Rourke, and Henry Cuellarsaid so over the past week. Democratic political celebrity Wendy Davis, who is running to be governor of Texas, said so, too. Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt includes the blunder in his list of sins that calls for a reshuffling of the top staffers in his administration.
President Obama is already criticized for being too slow to act, aloof, and out of sync with the public. He inhabits a political office, but sniffs at the theatrical requirements required. “This isn’t theater,” he said. “This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops, I’m interested in solving a problem.” This episode seems like just another confirming piece of data in a long-term trend. But that’s not right. President Obama will happily engage in a photo op. Here he is at the Key Bridge. Here he sends an unsubtle message to the Russians from a meeting with the Polish president. Here he shoots pool. Yum, barbecue! Tuesday he sat in a simulator car. He pushes his staff to seek out photo ops across the country and he’s asked his Cabinet to travel this summer to engage in their own. The issue is not his unwillingness to engage in this particular form of presidential art. He’s making a choice: when a photo-op isn’t to his advantage, he elevates avoiding it to a high-minded ideal.