Every single time at something bad happens, you can count on critics of President Obama to complain that he is playing golf instead of attending to the crisis of the moment (which may not even require crisis attention at the presidential level). The latest round of golf-inspired outrage has emerged in the aftermath of the awful shooting of two police officers in New York. More people than I can count haven taken to social media in the aftermath of the shooting to complain that once the president condemned the shooting, he went back to his vacation schedule, and specifically, that he had the temerity to play golf during that vacation.
This reaction is ridiculous beyond belief, spectacularly juvenile, and should stop at some point before the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. Here is why:
First of all, if the world stopped for an American president every time a police officer is killed, the world would stop an awful lot and the president’s job would become nothing short of impossible to do. I do not write this to diminish the deaths of police officers; whenever a police officer loses his of her life at the hands of some hoodlum, the proper response should be outrage, not resignation. But after the shooting occurs, what is the president supposed to do? Call a meeting of the National Security Council? Go to DEFCON 2? Ask Congress for a declaration of war? What?
The truth of the matter is that there is nothing that the president can do at that point, other than express how outraged and angered he is by the shooting, and then get back to a normal schedule. And the fact of the matter is that there is nothing more that we should want the president to do at that point. No president is going to want to be accused of taking public actions or making public statements that might prejudice the public against any criminal defendant and prevent that defendant from being able to receive a fair trial, so presidents will most likely do their level best to shut up. So, however much some people may bray for Barack Obama to get involved publicly in this latest criminal case, the more mature course of action is to let him stay out of it as much as he possibly can.
Secondly, it is worth remembering just how much Jimmy Carter was perceived as being a prisoner of the White House after the Iran hostage crisis commenced. I’m sure that Carter cared deeply about the hostages and about ensuring their release, but it would have been far better for his presidency and for the country at large if he were perceived as going about his business and projecting an air of normalcy, rather than being tied down to the White House and being seen as obsessing over the fate of the hostages. President Obama has even less reason to be seen as obsessing; as awful as it is to write this, the murders have been committed, and again, there is nothing that the president can do at this point. So there is no point whatsoever to the president disturbing his schedule to attach himself to this latest crisis. He has no power whatsoever to do anything good for anyone. No president would in a similar circumstance.
Finally, let’s all bear in mind that the situation in New York, Ferguson and other cities is still more than a little tense as a consequence of the decision not to indict Darren Wilson or Daniel Pantaleo for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively. The president is going to want to ensure that tensions are calmed and passions are cooled, and to the extent that the president does get involved in this situation, it should be to remind people that they have an obligation to themselves and to others to keep their heads instead of losing them. Other than doing that, again, it is best that the president not say anything that might further inflame tensions. Those who are asking the president to speak fire and brimstone in addressing this murder–and who demand that he upend his entire schedule in order to do so when upending that schedule would not help–are only asking for trouble.
Many of these same points would apply in explaining why the president might keep from drastically changing his schedule in response to other bad things that might happen on his/her watch, so before we go off half cocked in future crises about how the president should cut short his vacation and stop playing golf, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether such demands, if carried out, would actually do anything to make the situation any better, or whether perhaps, action on the part of the president might actually serve to make things worse. And yes, fellow right-of-center types, I know and remember that any number of port-side critics of George W. Bush liked to harp on the fact that he enjoyed playing golf when it looked as though the world was going to Hell in a handbasket, and that such criticisms were patently unfair. You might now think that with a Democratic president in office, turnabout is fair play. My response would be to ask you whether you really want to be like the very demagogues who so disgusted and appalled you (and me) when Barack Obama’s predecessor was in office.