Never the commander-in-chief
posted at 9:21 am on July 22, 2014 by Noah Rothman
As the world burns, President Barack Obama decided that an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live amid a three-day fundraiser swing down the West Coast would be a touch too gauche.
“In advance of the trip, we’ve been in touch with Kimmel’s folks about the president doing his show,” said White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest on Monday. “We elected not to do it this time, but hope we can arrange to do it in the near future.”
What a generous display of regard for what the media has been reminding the president all month are the “optics” associated with serving as the nation’s chief executive. But there is a downside associated with this decision. It robs the press of once again dubbing Obama America’s “entertainer-in-chief.”
That was a moniker that Obama received after one of this many appearances on pop television programs ranging from Myth Busters to David Letterman. And, yes, it was a compliment.
“Bush for the most part failed as an entertainer-in-chief,” observed Slate’s Troy Patterson in 2010. “This is not blameworthy, but it is noteworthy. This is America, pal, and our business is show business.”
“In the past, presidents were reluctant to appear on late-night shows because they felt it lowered the stature of the office,” US News’ Kenneth Walsh wrote in the heat of the 2012 reelection campaign. How times have changed.
The president is, however, doing some good work on the road. In one stop, Obama spoke before an audience of African-Americans where he addressed what he considered the deleterious issue of how some in the black community deride others for “acting white.” Obama added that this peer pressure designed to enforce behavioral norms in the black community “has to go.”
Amid this exercise in cultural criticism, CBS This Morning christened the president America’s “mentor-in-chief.”
The president is, however, cognizant of the fact that 300 civilians were recently killed in a brazen attack by pro-Russian separatists using Russian military hardware in Ukraine. He has been periodically addressing the situation since that July 17 attack by demanding a full and thorough investigation take place. It is hard to blame him for failing to acknowledge that the rebels on the ground repeatedly and wantonly ignored his warnings not to disturb the crash site. What president would want to acknowledge his own irrelevance?
But, on a series of occasions, the president did speak in soft, reassuring tones about the nature of the attack and the grave wound it dealt those who lost loved ones. For this pageantry, as CNN’s Jim Acosta determined that Obama had reprised his role as America’s “comforter-in-chief.”
So rarely does the press determine that Obama has embraced his role as the country’s commander-in-chief. While foreign crises explode in Gaza and Ukraine, as China tests its boundaries in the Pacific, while an Islamic caliphate and terrorist safe haven grows more firmly established in Syria and Iraq, America’s commander of the armed forces is nowhere to be seen.
The press does the president no favors by inventing a variety of catchy phrases aimed at creating the impression that the president is engaged in his responsibilities. All that strained cleverness merely serves to emphasize the fact that Obama has abdicated his constitutionally defined role.
The president can, however, take solace in one nickname that he has not yet earned. While Obama has attended more than 393 fundraising events over the course of his presidency, he lags far behind Bill Clinton as the president who fundraised the most while in office.
“By this point in his second term, Clinton had hosted 127 fundraisers,” The Washington Post‘s Sebastian Payne reported last week, “meaning Obama has a ways to go to take the title as fundraiser-in-chief.”
Well, something to shoot for at least, right? We all need goals.