Is President Obama too detached to lead?

Those questions would have been so obvious to any reasonably competent deputy press secretary that the incident raises further issues: Is there really no one on the White House staff with the standing to confront Obama when he is about to make a self-evident mistake? Is he surrounded by sycophancy? Or has reelection liberated Obama from all considerations of symbolism or appropriateness?

One gets the impression of a particular message being sent. The president is so aggressively indifferent to appearances that he doesn’t really seem indifferent at all. He appears to be telling the media, his political critics and the world: You can criticize me, vilify me, challenge me; but you are powerless, at least, to change my tee time. It shows resilience. Yet there is a fine line between not giving an inch and not giving a damn.

Our view of presidential character is often conditioned by the direction of events. When a president is succeeding, he might be regarded as principled. When he is failing, the same leader may be viewed as stubborn. A president who is considered flexible in success might be called slippery in failure. A leader’s virtues can become his weaknesses — or maybe they are inseparable. Our admiration becomes our indictment.