At least when George W. Bush goofed off, he was seen busily clearing brush or running on a treadmill. His successor takes in a fancy West Village meal followed by a Broadway show. There is nothing wrong with a night on the town now and then but Obama seems to be taking more than his fair share. Here he is hamming it up with reporters ("my base") at a black-tie event. There he is appearing topless and Matthew McConaughey-like on a magazine cover. The Oval Office seems like a day at the beach.
I'm reminded of the mini-fuss that followed Obama's 60 Minutes interview in which he laughed his way through a serious discussion about the war and economy. Where's the "I feel your pain" empathy so characteristic of Democratic presidents (and their judicial nominees)? Is Obama trying to sail through his presidency the way he sailed through the U.S. Senate?
The 3 a.m. phone calls that concern me most are the ones Obama makes as he phones in his presidential duties, which apparently include tapping his top campaign fundraisers to fill lush embassy posts in London and Paris, the kind of coveted spots lifelong diplomats with, you know, actual training, would die for. I would love to see how much the presidential couple's romantic night out in New York, replete with security detail, advance team preparation, police escort, etc., cost American taxpayers (I hope there's a FOIA out there requesting those figures). Why can't Americans summon the same outrage over government waste as Brits?
The trouble is, buoyed by a gaga media, Obama sees his position in presidential history as, to borrow an apt but overused sports metaphor, a "slam dunk." North Korea is threatening to nuke its neighbors, yet the U.S. State Department has not even confirmed its top analyst on East Asia. Pakistan is coming unraveled, yet Obama's solution is to repackage the same medicine of his hawkish predecessor: send more troops, then slap a bureaucratic name on it like Af-Pak, which sounds like a bad insurance slogan.
His solution for Middle East peace? To regurgitate his own mixed background. Obama's bio, however inspiring, is beginning to sound a lot like John Edwards' tear-jerky speech about his coalminer dad. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), this kind of pap does not play as well in the Middle East. To quote Iran's parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani: "Our problem with America is not emotional." Muslims I spoke to on a recent visit to the Middle East appreciate Obama's moving story, his rhetoric of unity, but that does not make up for the fact that Washington is still in bed with Israel, something that will always imperil our ability to broker peace in the region.
Obama shouldn't be seen kicking his feet up while the world is crashing around him. His too-cool-for-school demeanor and Camelot-like escapades on Broadway remind me of a line from a 1970s musical: "I came from the people, they need to adore me... I need to be thrilling. I want to be rainbow high. They need their escapes, and so do I." Let's hope Obama goes down in history better than Eva Peron.
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