Discussing perceived political angles to tragedies, especially as they’re happening, is always touchy. Even if there is a valid policy observation to be made, you’re opening yourself up to ready-made accusations of insensitivity, partisanship, and opportunism. So it should come as little surprise that the leftist smear merchants at Media Matters are raking Sean Hannity over the coals for a “five-minute Obama-bashing session” during his coverage of the disaster in Japan:
HANNITY: Apparently, the president was groggy when he answered that call, because on Saturday, hours after the quake struck, he went golfing. And later that evening he attended a dinner with members of the mainstream Obama-mania media. And today, the president spent his afternoon filling out his NCAA brackets for ESPN [...]
DANA PERINO, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He probably feels like if he would succumb to all the pressure, to comment on everything, he wouldn’t have time even to go to the bathroom. But what surprises me is –
HANNITY: You mean he wouldn’t have time to shoot hoops?
PERINO: Well — shoot hoops, play golf — but the other thing is, remember, from the communication standpoint what they’ve done. Today, he did three interviews, with regional news outlets in key battle ground states for 2012. I mean, they are starting very, very early. He still has yet I believe to do an interview with NHK which is the main news outlet for Japan. How reassuring it would be for the Japanese to hear from the president right now.
Another communications points, Steve, is in January, when Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot, that morning President Obama put out a photograph from him in the White House situation room, even after we knew it was lone gunman, I mean, the situation room?
And then Saturday, their only communications was a radio address on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which had obviously been taped days before and they’re not going to change it, and his video of him playing golf.
On the one hand, I don’t want to see conservatives taking this line of attack too far. As we’ve discussed before, presidents are never really off-duty. And while it certainly doesn’t speak well of Obama’s PR team that nobody thought the president’s current schedule of sports, photo ops, and vacations would look improper when juxtaposed against foreign deaths and devastation, the fact is that there’s just not much for the President of the United States’ to do about overseas natural disasters. Save, of course, for the expression of the nation’s sympathy for the people of Japan, and to suggest that Americans look into relief efforts to support them. It’s not as if the death toll is higher because Obama failed to act.
On the other hand, it’s worth reminding the country about the media’s hypocrisy here, and how President George W. Bush was savaged for far less R&R than Obama has indulged in. And while we shouldn’t declare every presidential photo op or hole in one as a dereliction of duty, at the same time Obama’s overall record does give one a sense of inattentiveness or indecision. John Podhoretz writes:
He is largely notable by his absence, which is itself the result not only of not knowing what to do but also apparently believing it is better for the world if he remains a minor player as a bloodbath approaches in the Middle East and something more ominous seems to be approaching in Japan. When he talks, as he did in Friday’s press conference, he only makes matters more confusing; there is little reassurance that there is a hand anywhere near the tiller.
Obama’s defiant unwillingness to take the measure of the world’s multiple crises and to act as a world leader in response to them in the eyes of the public indicates a fundamental disconnect in the Oval Office. We’ve heard all kinds of talk about how his new team in the White House is so much better than the old, but at least the old team recognized there was a crisis underway in the United States in 2009. It reacted too gleefully, and with wild overreach. But it acted.
Conservatives love to say that Obama is the second coming of Jimmy Carter. Liberals are taking comfort, as this analysis of a meaningless and silly all-adults-not-voters poll in the Washington Post today reveals, in the thought that Obama is Bill Clinton circa 1995. But I’m now thinking he’s beginning to resemble George H.W. Bush after the Gulf War in 1991, with his obstinate refusal to take sides in democratization efforts and a general preference for the pretense that his job is largely managerial.
Lastly, Hannity is a conservative opinion show. People don’t tune in to hear the host repeat the same things Fox News has been repeating all day; they tune in for political commentary and analysis. Why does Media Matters think it’s significant that a right-wing commentator leveled some fairly pedestrian complaints at a left-wing president?