President Barack Obama is flying to South Africa Monday morning to join the emotional extravaganza around the graveside of former president Nelson Mandela, leaving Vice President Joe Biden on his lonesome to attend meetings in the empty White House.
The president will board U.S. Air Force One to jet around the world to Johannesburg, the financial capital of South Africa, while Joe stays behind to keep the lights on at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Obama is flying away from supposedly high-priority negotiations to prevent another budget shutdown of Uncle Sam’s federal government, and also from the top-priority effort to rebuild his crashed Obamacare program.
He’s also ditching the annual Christmas party with members of Congress, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, even though he has often blamed the nation’s lousy economy on irrational GOP hatred of himself.
Obama’s departure, and the veep’s stay, is a reversal of the usual situation: the vice president is used as a flattering messenger to the president’s allies, such as Turkey’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Erdogan.
The rush by Obama and his wife to appear at Mandela’s memorial stands is also in sharp contrast to their snubbing the April 2013 funeral of U.K. former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Obama sent only some retired Republicans and a former ambassador to Thatcher’s funeral.
Both Thatcher and Mandela were successful leaders. But Thatcher was European friend and an ally of the United States, while Mandela was an African who periodically lauded the American-hating leaders of Iran and of the Muslims living in Palestine. Arab leader Yasir Arafat was “was an icon,” Mandela said in 2004. Arafat’s death was a “great blow to all those fighting against oppression.”
The South African trip is last-minute, and the security problem so daunting, that the president will sleep overnight on Air Force One, according to the White House press statement.
However, the “Air Force One” label can be switched to other facilities, so the president and the first lady may not actually sleep in very obvious nose of the converted Boeing 747 that usually serves as Air Force One.
Back in Washington, Biden is scheduled to “attend meetings at the White House,” according to a statement from his office.
Instead of flying off to sunny South Africa to look sorrowful at the graveside of the second-most prominent black leader in the world, Biden has been given the apparently lesser task of meeting live diplomats to the United States, and of hosting elected American members of Congress.
“In the afternoon, the vice president and Dr. Jill Biden will attend a holiday reception for the Diplomatic Corps at the Department of State [and] this reception is closed press,” said a statement from Biden’s office.
Later, “at 6:00 PM, the vice president and Dr. Biden will attend the Congressional Holiday Ball at the White House. This event is [also] closed to press,” said the statement.
Neither event will generate any useful video that would help decorate his expected 2016 run for the presidency.
Instead, that expensive and unique visual will go on Obama’s trophy wall.