[Ed. – May not have been?]
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.