After “Vacation from Hell”, it’s “Back to School” Week for Obama

President Barack Obama selects a club while golfing at Farm Neck Golf Club, in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard. (Steven Senne/AP)
President Barack Obama selects a club while golfing at Farm Neck Golf Club, in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. (Steven Senne/AP)

by David Ignatius

It’s “back to school” week for President Obama, after what a CNN analyst called “the vacation from hell.” So perhaps it’s a good time to examine what’s been going wrong for Obama recently and whether he can fix it.

The common complaint of late is that Obama is “disengaged.” This has always been somewhat of an issue, given his reticent public style, but the criticism intensified during his Martha’s Vineyard holiday. It’s an odd critique: Obama works at least as diligently as George W. Bush did during his frequent trips to Texas. Even during this golf-besotted vacation, Obama seemed to spend a good part of most days dealing with crises, foreign and domestic.

He could have saved himself some political trouble by scuttling the vacation altogether, but I’m not sure that would have benefited the country, to say nothing of his family.

It’s often suggested that Obama should invite more politicians, such as House Speaker John Boehner, to join his famous golf outings. But would that really help? Even if the two became BFFs on the links, it’s doubtful that Boehner could forge bipartisanship among a House Republican caucus terrified by the tea party.

Certainly Obama could communicate better. But as he has learned, giving speeches and more frequent news conferences doesn’t necessarily move the needle of public support. Six years into his presidency, Obama turns a lot of people off. Even a fine speech (such as his remarks after the beheading of journalist James Foley) can set the stage for a paroxysm about his insensitivity in playing golf afterward. Obama probably thought he was doing the right thing in showing that the president couldn’t be brutalized into changing his routine. It was an understandable decision but a wrong one.

Obama has also drawn flak for what were seen as dispassionate remarks after the slaying of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Mo. Here again, I suspect Obama was doing what he thought was presidential — trying to speak for all the country. But Ferguson showed how precarious that middle ground can be.

The truth about the disengaged Obama is that he has probably stopped caring what most critics say about his performance. A few months ago, during his Asia trip, he mused aloud during a news conference about complaints that his foreign policy was weak, asking critics such as Sen. John McCain and hawkish editorial writers: What do you want me to do? Repeat the mistakes of the past?

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SOURCE: The Washington Post

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