Obama’s horrible optics

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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If there’s anything we know about politics — if we’ve learned anything over the years — it is that political leaders have to at least look like they care. (In fact, looking like they care is arguably just as important as actually doing anything to fix things.)

Yet, despite hard times all around us, Obama has done a terrible job at this.

And yet, he appears to be winning.

This goes against what we know about crisis communications. From Marie Antionette to George W. Bush, the perception (correct or not) that a leader doesn’t care about the plight of the common man is the cardinal sin of politics.

Whether it requires dropping the necktie, reciting the price of a gallon of milk, showing up at a disaster scene (even when there’s nothing you can do to help), or merely saying, “I feel your pain” — smart politicians know it’s important to show empathy and look interested.

Thus, with the election right around the corner, one might think Obama would do everything in his power to avoid bad optics.

He has at least two major problems to contend with these days — the economy and the Middle East. And yet, he appears to be taking a cavalier approach to both. On “60 Minutes” this Sunday, he downplayed the chaos in the Middle East — including the killing of an American Ambassador — as a “bump in the road.”

He goes to Vegas while the Middle East is in flames. He goes on “The View” instead of meeting with foreign heads of state.

He says the private sector is “doing fine.” And despite the bad economy, he constantly golfs. (Wait for it!) — Imagine if George W. Bush did that.

It’s unbelievable.

Some conservatives think this disconnect is representative of his narcissism (he overrules his advisers, believing he is above having to pander). Others believe this is an intentional strategy meant to downplay America’s problems (the theory is that if the president were to acknowledge how serious our problems were, it would be a concession that he has failed.)

But this seems like a risky strategy that challenges many assumptions about how politics works in this country. The out-of-work construction worker isn’t reassured or fooled by a president who acts as if everything is honky dory — he’s outraged by that!

Still, for now, at least, the rules don’t apply to Obama. He s a Teflon president — nothing sticks to him. Of course, he is greatly aided by his willing accomplices in the media, who happily obsess over Romney’s gaffes — while quickly dismissing Obama’s stumbles (remember the “Polish death camps” line? I didn’t think so.)

Might this eventually catch up to him? Sometimes there is a tipping point. One wonders if he might be tempting fate.

Matt K. Lewis