Amid a dreadful economy, two wars, and a never-ending environmental disaster that is leaving the southern Gulf an oily mess, a simple round of golf would appear to be a rather trivial affair.
But in politics, the perceptions game is as important as any. And it’s why President Obama has come under recent scrutiny for his habitual golfing.
The image of the commander in chief taking to the links has always had its perils as a matter of public relations, especially for Republican presidents who sought to avoid reinforcing the stereotype that they were far more comfortable in the setting of a posh country club rather than in a bowling ally with the average Joe.
In Obama’s case it’s a two-fold critique that centers less on aristocratic appearance and more on the proper prioritization of his time and the frequency in which he has golfed during his modest time in office.
Since being sworn in as president, Obama has golfed 39 times, easily surpassing George W. Bush’s 24 rounds during his first two years and 10 months in office. Since the oil crisis began on April 20th, the president has participated in seven rounds of the leisurely sport.
Some Republicans have attempted to make political hay of Mr. Obama’s golfing habits.
“Until this problem is fixed,” RNC chairman Michael Steele said, referring to the oil spill in the Gulf, “no more golf outings, no more baseball games, and no more Beatles concerts, Mr. President.”
White House spokesman Bill Burton promptly responded to charges that his boss was spending too much time on the green rather than in the oval office, “I don’t think there’s a person in this country that doesn’t think their president ought to have a little time to clear his mind.”
Burton proceeded to list all the issues Obama had dealt with over the course of the week, and reminded the public that it “probably does us all good as American citizens that our president is taking that time.”
At first blush, Burton’s response seems incredulous. The suggestion that the president’s personal golf game is somehow benefiting the personal welfare of Americans is, to put it charitably, a bit of a stretch. But less than artful prose should not undermine the validity of Burton’s overarching point, which is that presidents are human beings too, and in the incredibly stressful pace of their job, there must be an outlet that provides semblance of a normal life.
Obama should find it comforting that criticism of his golfing expeditions hasn’t lead to a more negative caricature regarding his overall management style and approach as president.
Dwight Eisenhower wasn’t so lucky.