When was the last time Obama’s official spokesman met press criticism by saying, “Yup, you’re right”? Has Earnest ever done it before? Did Carney? Did Gibbs? I can’t think of a single instance offhand.
My own theory on why O skipped it is that a man who’s already semi-retired can’t be bothered to fly halfway around the world at a moment’s notice for a cause, especially when there’s football on. If you wanted Obama to pretend to care about something like the Charlie Hebdo slaughter, the time to catch him was in 2012, when he still gave a wet fart about voters’ opinions. No one’s going to vote Republican in 2016 because he didn’t march in Paris. So why should he do it? That’s where we are right now in his lame-duckery. But for the record:
Amid criticism, the White House admitted fault by not sending a high profile official to the unity rally in Paris on Sunday
“It is fair to say we should have sent someone with a higher profile,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Monday. The official only noted American official was the U.S ambassador to France.
Earnest also noted that the rally was conceived on Friday evening and did not allow enough time to pull off the security feat for the president to march amid the public, which attracted more than three-and-a-half people. Earnest said it posed “significant security challenges.”
He’s not pretending Obama had anything better to do either:
Q: "The VP was sitting at home all weekend and presumably could have gone,” @PressSec: “And so was the president."
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) January 12, 2015
Every other leader faced the same security and logistical challenges, including and especially Bibi Netanyahu. If the rally was secure enough for Israel, presumably it was secure enough for Obama, Biden, Eric Holder, Kerry, or FLOTUS. There’s got to be a better reason why none of O’s inner circle attended. One theory I’ve seen kicked around today is that an event with so many other leaders simply isn’t big enough for Obama’s ego, but I don’t buy that. He’s spent years attending international summits like the G-20 and the D-Day anniversary; he should be used to being a face in the crowd at major gatherings now. Besides, the ego theory doesn’t explain why he didn’t send Biden. Another theory I’ve heard is that participating in a march organized for western journalists massacred by jihadis would be too much of a concession that his celebrated speech in Cairo in 2009 had failed dismally. I really don’t buy that one: If you want proof that the Lightbringer’s rhetoric didn’t heal the Muslim world, look at the last three years of history in Iraq and Syria. Marching with Hollande wouldn’t make O’s legacy on pacifying the Middle East any more hollow than it already is.
This theory from Joel Pollak is interesting, though:
No–the answer almost certainly has to do with the fact that Obama–and Holder–have avoided all of the major so-called “civil rights” marches of the past several months. And they have taken heat for it from their political base: rapper Puff Daddy drew attention in August when he scolded Obama for his absence from Ferguson, Missouri, where black teenager Michael Brown was killed: “Obama, get on a plane — it’s serious. These are your people, baby. These are your people.” Holder did go to Ferguson–not to march but to speak with activists and officials behind the scenes, and try to broker an uneasy peace…
After sitting out the “#HandsUpDontShoot” and “#BlackLivesMatter” demonstrations, Obama and Holder were not going to be caught on camera attending a “#JeSuisCharlie” rally in Paris, no matter how many other world leaders were going to be there in solidarity with the French people, with the Jewish people, or with freedom of expression in general.
When they returned, the backlash from their political base would have been too overwhelming: for distant strangers, but not for us?
That’s the only theory I’ve seen that explains not only why O didn’t go to Paris but why neither Biden nor Michelle Obama went either. It also explains why no higher-ups attended the local solidarity march in Washington D.C. If any of them had marched anywhere, the police protesters would have made exactly the point Joel imagines — Joe Biden can march for dead French cartoonists but not for Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or any other black American killed by a police officer? Losing core Democratic support could hurt Hillary in 2016; they’re the only group left that Obama’s forced to pander to occasionally, and pandering in this case meant simply staying home and doing nothing. Pollak’s theory makes sense … except that Eric Holder did go to Ferguson so he probably could have marched yesterday without much flak from the lefty base. Same goes for Kerry. The secretary of state typically shies away from domestic politics so he’d have a ready excuse for marching in Paris but not in Ferguson. Look at it this way: The fact that Earnest is now admitting that someone should have been there gives police protesters an easy chance now to make the point Pollak’s imagining. If the White House regrets not sending someone to Hollande’s rally, do they also regret not sending anyone to the protests in Ferguson or New York?
Exit question one: Do we really care that Obama didn’t show up for what was, after all, a well-meaning but toothless gesture? Exit question two: Is the real reason Obama stayed home perhaps because the White House has criticized Charlie Hebdo for its provocations in the past and saw no reason not to boycott until they got pounded yesterday from the right and left alike? Another tidbit from today’s press briefing via Conn Carroll:
Earnest not backing off WH 2012 statement that questioned the judgement of #CharlieHedbo
— Conn Carroll (@conncarroll) January 12, 2015