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November 24th, 2017

Insight

Snap out of It, Mr. President

Roger Simon

By Roger Simon

Published Sept. 10, 2014

I wish the president would go golfing again. Really.

He skipped it Sunday, a beautiful day, because he wanted to show the nation that he now finally understands the bad "optics" of golfing while frightening matters embroil the nation.

Actually, he has always understood optics. He just temporarily stopped caring about them. It was as if he wanted to escape the theatrics of his office, if only for a few weeks.

But he now realizes he can't. He lives in the golden cage of the presidency, and there is no escape from it.

He gave a hangdog interview to Chuck Todd of NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. Here is part of it:

Todd: "During that vacation, you made the statement on (beheaded American journalist James) Foley (and then) you went and golfed. Do you want that back?"

Obama: "I should've anticipated the optics. You know, that's part of the job. ... Part of this job is also the theater of it. A part of it is, you know, how are you — well, it's not something that always comes naturally to me. But it matters."

Oh, gimme a break. Barack Obama has understood the optics and theater of politics since at least Feb. 10, 2007, when he announced he would be running for president before a vast crowd at an outdoor rally on a ferociously cold day in Springfield, Illinois.

"In the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States," he said. "I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness in this — a certain audacity to this announcement."

It was the audacity of hope. But today Obama is caught up in the miasma of mope.

He knew he shouldn't have gone golfing after that beheading — just as he knew he shouldn't have gone golfing while tempers in Ferguson, Missouri, were raging.

He knew the optics and the theater, and he didn't care. He was on vacation, and he wanted to believe that a president could actually take a vacation. Which a president can't.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll now shows that the majority of Americans think Obama has been a failure.

Tough noogies. They don't get a mulligan. They elected him and re-elected him. And he will serve, God willing, until January 2017.

But his get-up-and-go appears to have gotten up and gone.

Go back to a packed hotel meeting room on Feb. 2, 2007, just about a week before Obama announces for office. It is a cattle call in front of the Democratic National Committee, and the A-list — Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton — will present their bona fides for the presidency this day.

But Obama's speech is different from the others. "If you look at all the cameras gathered around and the clicking of the photographers, the pundits who are collected, sometimes you feel like you are part of a reality TV show," he says. "I feel like this is 'American Idol' or 'Survivor' and you got to figure out if you're going to go to Hollywood or you're going to be voted off the island. But that's not why I'm here. And that's not why you're here."

This was a man who saw through the game. Which is not the same as winning it.

The institution of the presidency and the public expectations about how a president should act are a force greater than any individual who holds the office.

And the need for a president to be the leader of his party, as well as the leader of the nation — a notion that so horrified George Washington that he warned all successors against it — has now caused Obama to play a game he deplores.

He believes in immigration reform; he wants immigration reform. And he said that he would cut an obstructionist Republican House out of immigration reform by announcing executive actions ... someday — meaning after the November elections.

It is what critics are calling "the fierce urgency of whenever."

All this comes at a time when Obama is off his game. He is like a slugger who suddenly can't hit a curveball.

The Islamic State? The junior varsity.

Syria? A "red line" has been set.

Iraq? "The tide of war is receding."

It has taken a toll. He is still the same man whose rhetoric electrified a nation and a world, but now he appears to be operating at a lower wattage.

And the job has so visibly aged him it is getting scary: the gray hair, the lined face, the suits gapping at the neck.

If John Kennedy demonstrated vigor, Barack Obama is demonstrating something close to exhaustion.

Snap out of it, Mr. President. On Monday, the first lady gave a speech at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta. It didn't get a lot of coverage. But in it, she said:

"How do you pick yourself up when you feel like somebody keeps knocking you down over and over and over again? You can start by listening to the words of the man this school is named after.

"Booker T. Washington once said, 'Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.'"

Go for it, Mr. President. At your announcement in Springfield, you said: "If you sense, as I sense, that the time is now to shake off our slumber and slough off our fear and make good on the debt we owe past and future generations, then I'm ready to take up the cause and march with you and work with you."

Do it, Mr. President. Your presidency is not over. Your commitment has not ended. Your job is not complete.

You used to say it in Spanish: Sí, se puede. It can be done.

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