Opinion: The increasingly odd political optics of Barack Obama


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In politics, what you’re really doing is often much less important than what it looks like you’re really doing.

And with only 560 days left until the voters’ next verdict, President Obama is rapidly painting himself into a public-relations corner with an ongoing series of possibly accidental gaffes that are accumulating in the public mind.


And the biting humor repertoire of late-night comics: ‘Donald Trump says he’s President Obama’s worst nightmare,’ Jay Leno said last night. ‘No. Having to make a decision is President Obama’s worst nightmare.’

The former state senator may, in fact, be slaving away on 18-hour policy days. But much of that is closed out of sight. So the public is left to focus on Obama’s frequent vacations, golf outings, celebrity gatherings and proclivity to give a speech at the first whiff of trouble.

With no real opposition, Chicago’s Democrat pols care little about how insensitive things look.

Any one of these apparent missteps is inconsequential. However, accumulated over his 118 weeks in office, they create the impression of carelessness at best or, worse, arrogance.

What the White House issues are photos of a tieless, laughing Obama, feet up on the historic Oval Office desk, chatting on the phone system that he complains is so decrepit.

What the public sees, while it frets over stubborn unemployment and soaring gas prices, is a diffident Democrat who takes a 17-vehicle motorcade of SUVs and limos to be seen looking at clean-energy cars.


A pontificating president who suggests that one worried commuter buy a new car instead of complaining.

A guy who spent 745 million donated dollars to get into the White House complaining to visiting editors about losing his anonymity and being locked in the presidential bubble that provides service, luxury, power and security unimaginable to most.

To be sure, other presidents have played golf. Maybe not during three simultaneous wars with the awful accompanying human tolls.

Not likely working the putter the day after a colossal combined earthquake/tsunami natural disaster hit as close an ally as Japan. Or canceling a trip to the funeral of Poland’s president and hitting the links.

It’s one thing to urge Americans to vacation on the troubled Gulf coast last summer, while your wife flies off to Spain with a planeload of pals.

It’s another to spend much of Earth Day in a 747 jumbo jet flying 2,300 miles cross-country back from a slew of multimillion-dollar West Coast fundraisers, as Obama did last week.


It’s one thing to launch a war against Libya while packing up your wife, daughters, mother-in-law and her friend to tour South America.

It’s another to wait nine whole days to bother explaining the unexpected combat to a puzzled nation. Or nearly two months to arrange an Oval Office address on the country’s worst environmental disaster ever.

It’s one thing to laugh off the uninformed belief of millions of countrymen that Obama is a Muslim.

It’s another to issue meticulous presidential messages and proclamations on what strike many Americans as the most obscure holidays of various religions around the world, then skip official notice of Easter in the predominantly Christian country they elected you to lead.

It’s one thing to attend church with your family on that Easter holiday and nod in agreement during the sermon. It’s another to leave that service a half-hour early, purportedly to avoid disrupting the service by waiting until the end.

Every president stages grand White House events like state dinners and the traditional Easter Egg Roll. Some 30,000 enjoyed themselves on the South Lawn Monday, even if few ever know precisely why they’re rolling chicken eggs through the grass with spoons.


When George W. Bush staged his annual Tee-Ball tournament on that same grass, his staff ensured ample opportunity for the first father to be photographed, not demonstrating his own prowess at the plate, but teeing up the plastic ball for a little person to take a wild but earnest swing that drew applause all around.

On Monday President Obama held his monthly secret strategy meeting on the Afghanistan/Pakistan fighting. But what did we get about his day?

A photo of Obama appearing to laugh at one egg-rolling youngster. Photos of what could be a showoff Obama dribbling a basketball by himself while the crowd watches. And a shot of him shooting by himself.

Today, Obama will do four TV interviews on debt reduction to targeted markets in Ohio, Georgia, Virginia and Michigan. He’ll then have meetings with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates. All are closed.

But here’s a selection of other Obama activities scheduled this week: Wednesday he and wife Michelle fly to Chicago on Air Force One. They will be there for three hours. The sole purpose: to tape an Oprah show. Obama will then fly to New York City. The sole purpose: a fundraiser, three, in fact.

Air Force One costs the government $181,000 an hour to operate.

Confident politicians enduring the ubiquitous criticism of American politics often remind themselves that much of what they do goes unseen and therefore unappreciated by the often inattentive people who employ them.

But in the end at the next election these elected officials assume that, even without deigning to carefully choreograph events, their work will speak for itself to voters passing judgment.


That may be true.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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