Thursday, June 26, 2014

Golf is the Game of Presidents, So Get Over It

Presidents play golf.... Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter (although after his presidency), Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush II, Obama.... Dana Milbank knows this fact, but nonetheless....
On June 14, Sunni rebels threatened Baghdad after seizing much of Iraq — and President Obama fearlessly played a round at the Sunnylands Golf Course in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

The next day, the militants posted pictures of their mass execution of Shiite members of Iraq’s security forces — and Obama boldly teed off again, at Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s Rancho Mirage estate.

These split-screen scenes were reminiscent of the weekend in March when Russia was about to annex Crimea. Obama played golf both Saturday and Sunday at Key Largo, Fla.’s Ocean Reef resort with former NBA star Alonzo Mourning and former NFL player Ahmad Rashad.

It’s enough to make one wish the president would take up a different pastime — like, say, stamp collecting.

Yes, a president needs down time. And, yes, he can run the country whether he’s in a sand trap or the Situation Room. But Obama’s golf habit needlessly hands his critics a gimme.
Only if reporters like Milbank treat it as a serious accusation, rather than dismissing it as tripe.
Former vice president Dick Cheney, writing in the Wall Street Journal with his daughter Liz, complained: “Terrorists take control of more territory and resources than ever before in history, and he goes golfing.” House intelligence committee Chairman Mike Rogers gave a TV interview asking Obama to “please come back from the golf course” and find an Iraq solution.
An appropriate response to Rogers might be, "What do you imagine that the President might do to solve Iraq's problems that he is not already doing?" That would go for the Cheneys as well, but the absurdity of the Cheney accusation triggered another memory in Milbank:
I was one of the many who had fun with George W. Bush’s classic tee shot in 2002: “I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive.” But as The Post’s Colby Itkowitz noted, Bush hung up his spikes after the Iraq invasion. (He busied himself with other leisure pursuits, such as clearing brush.)
Bush earned himself the jokes not by playing golf, but by foolishly adding the "Now watch this drive" line to what should have been a serious response to a serious issue. Had Bush stopped before that final sentence, it would have been just another day on the golf course. Don't take it from me -- take it from Milbank:
Don't watch this drive. In his first three years in office, Bush played golf 16 times. But, according to the White House's unofficial statistician, CBS News's Mark Knoller, Bush has not teed off since Oct. 13, 2003. Some muse that Bush was cowed by filmmaker Michael Moore's mocking of Bush's golf habit in "Fahrenheit 9/11" which featured footage of Bush mixing remarks on Middle East violence with a command to "watch this drive." But Bush's golf ban far predates the Moore film and seems to coincide with Bush's discovery of mountain biking -- a better sport for appealing to the common man.
For goodness sake, even Dwight Eisenhower played golf. Woodrow Wilson played golf. Harry Truman didn't play golf at all, so there's no inference to be drawn from his abstention. And really -- the staged brush clearing photo ops on the ranch G.W. sold immediately upon retiring from the White House? Milbank believed that stuff?
As former Texas agriculture commissioner Jim Hightower, who dubbed the Crawford digs a "ranchette," said in 2004, "Bush is always inviting the media out to take pictures of him clearing brush. In my experience real ranchers spend virtually no time clearing brush. They're usually tending cattle....the cattle you see as part of the photo op aren't even his. They're somebody else's that he rents the land to."
Milbank complains,
The image problem isn’t from leisure activity per se but the type of leisure activity. A majority of Americans now believes that Obama doesn’t understand their problems, and images of him playing golf — perceived, fairly or not, as a rich man’s game — confirms this out-of-touch reputation.
Yet Reagan was a man of the people, and G.W. was a guy you would want to drink a beer with.... Go figure. Maybe Milbank would have the President take up a real "man of the people" hobby, like watercolor portraiture?
This is similar to the problem that dogged Mitt Romney, and now Hillary Clinton. The Post’s Philip Rucker this week noted that influential Democrats are concerned that her “rarefied, cloistered lifestyle could jeopardize the Democratic Party’s historic edge with the middle class.”
Wait... this happened because Hillary Clinton plays too much golf? Because if not, perhaps opportunistic demagogues like Rogers and Cheney aren't sincere in their mention of golf, but are using it as a basis for a criticism that they would be making no matter what the President were doing in his leisure time. Ya think? And as for Mitt Romney, he doesn't play golf, either... so it's actually possible to be perceived as elitist and out-of-touch without playing golf? Who would have thought....

Perhaps this is the real problem....
The game has driven another wedge between the president and White House reporters who, during their turns on pool duty, chronicle with envy his weekly outings with friends and aides.

“Beautiful day for hitting the links,” the Washington Examiner’s Susan Crabtree wrote from Fort Belvoir. “Unfortunately pool is headed to the base rec center for the duration.”

“Looked like a nice place to play golf,” wrote the Houston Chronicle’s Kevin Diaz from the “exclusive” Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, “at least from the maintenance shed where pool spent the day.”
How... moving. It must be tough to have to watch the President from a distance, rather than getting an up-close view as you're handed packaged talking points and photo ops.

Heck, if Iraq is so much more serious than golf, why are reporters following the President to a golf course where they know they won't get a story? Why is Milbank writing a story about those poor, unfortunate reporters? Think of all the shoe leather and column inches they could be devoting to stories on Iraq! I have to ask, though, did Milbank offer similar sympathy to White House reporters when they watched G.W. race off on his mountain bike?

I know that he has columns to write and deadlines to meet, but when his game is on Milbank can do so much better than this.

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