Even former senior White House adviser David Axelrod thinks President Obama is sometimes “negligent” in handling the optics of the presidency.
Axelrod spoke to Bloomberg Businessweek for a Thursday report about Obama’s less-than-stellar crisis management skills in light of criticism of the White House’s response to Ebola concerns.
“There’s no doubt that there’s a theatrical nature to the presidency that he resists,” Axelrod told Bloomberg Businessweek Thursday. “Sometimes he can be negligent in the symbolism.”
Axelrod praised Obama’s supposed cool and professorial demeanor in the face of a crisis, but admitted that it can raises issues when the public doesn’t feel the president is addressing their fears seriously.
This has been a problem in the administration’s handling of public fears about Ebola, especially after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials and a Dallas hospital initially bungled their response to the first U.S. case of the virus. Not only did several nurses catch the virus while treating the first U.S. Ebola patient, Thomas Duncan, but one nurse took two commercial flights while infected — and the CDC approved it.
It wasn’t until after bipartisan calls for harsher restrictions amid increasing public fear of Ebola that the administration was pushed into taking more serious measures, such as appointing an Ebola czar and issuing travel restrictions.
Axelrod pointed to Obama’s handling of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion as case in point: Obama initially sent energy secretary Steven Chu to take charge of how to stop the leak, but only took stronger action — in this case, a moratorium on offshore drilling — once pressed into it by public anger.
“I still have searing memories of the leak and our response,” Axelrod said. “We finally made an Oval Office address, because we felt we had to have a presidential presence.”
Obama’s image problem goes beyond crisis management — he’s also had a series easily avoidable public relations flubs this year.
The worst may have been his decision to go directly from a speech condemning ISIS’s beheading of American journalist James Foley to a golf game in Martha’s Vineyard. Obama himself admitted that he “should’ve anticipated the optics” in that case.
And then there was the White House picture of Obama halfheartedly saluting a military officer with a cup of tea in his hand, much to the indignation of many conservatives.
Axelrod’s also recently been critical of Obama’s comments identifying campaigning Democrats with his administration’s still-unpopular agenda. (RELATED: Axelrod: An ‘Inconvenient Fact’ That Dems Support Obama’s Agenda)