Despite increasing criticism from the mainstream media over how President Obama has responded to the downed Malaysian plane and the latest conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the White House remains defiant, arguing that his response has been appropriate.
Rather than issue a statement immediately after Malaysian flight MH17 was shot down by pro-Russian separatists while flying over Ukraine, Obama continued on with his planned events, which included grabbing a cheeseburger at The Charcoal Pit in Delaware and fundraisers in New York.
When asked by ABC’s Jonathan Karl if this was, in hindsight, a mistake, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that it wasn’t. He said that they wouldn’t have hesitated to make a change to the President’s schedule, if necessary, in order for him to attend to an urgent priority and fulfill his responsibilities as Commander in Chief.
Last week, White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri told The New York Times’ Michael Shearer that “It is rarely a good idea to return to the White House just for show, when the situation can be handled responsibly from the road.” She said that abrupt changes to the President’s schedule can unduly alarm the public or create a false sense of crisis.
The National Journal’s Ron Fournier, however, isn’t convinced by the White House ‘s explanation:
First, the phrase ‘just for show’ is indicative of the Obama White House conceit that their guy is above politics. The fact is, all presidents do things just for show, because the office is inherently political, and one of the levers of power can be found in the public theater. … The hypocrisy is staggering. How is playing pool and drinking beer with the governor of Colorado not ‘just for show?’ Obama and his team consistently respond to criticism by dismissing the media’s focus on ‘optics,’ even as they craft and control the President’s image more aggressively than perhaps any previous White House.
Second, while Palmieri is correct that gutting a presidential schedule is rarely a good idea, there are times when it is. You could make an argument that Thursday was one such time, when the Gaza Strip erupted with violence and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allies shot a passenger plane from the sky. A president can bring calm and clarity to a confusing situation, or he can add to public anxiety.
Fournier is right. With Obama’s approval ratings in the tank, he had a golden opportunity to provide some reassurance and show some true leadership. But instead, he blew it by placing politics above everything else, only reinforcing the belief that he is increasingly out of touch.