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The New Presidential Optics: ‘Hapless and Heartless’


The word being bandied about in discussions about President Obama this week is “optics.” There seems to be a bizarre disconnect between what he says and what he does. Yesterday, Obama acknowledged he doesn’t have an answer on how the U.S. should deal with the barbarians of the Islamic State. “We don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama told reporters, in a phrase that could become emblematic of his entire administration. He gave no indication of when he would have one.

Today, the president will take a break from his deliberations and fly to the Northeast for (what else?) two political fundraisers. He will raise money in Westchester, N.Y., for the Democratic National Committee and in Newport, R.I., for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

All of this follows last week’s remarkably poor image management, which had Obama hitting the golf course at Martha’s Vineyard just minutes after a nationally televised address in which he expressed his horror at the execution of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd rewarded the president with by having him deliver a mocking Gettysburg Address of Golf.

CNS News noted that the White House sent three representatives to Michael Brown’s funeral in Ferguson. But the White House sent no representative to James Foley’s funeral. 

Linda Stasi of the New York Daily News says the White House these days looks both “hapless and heartless” in everything it does.

“Are there any adults over there who can tell the president what he’s doing is hurting both himself and his party?” a prominent Democratic lobbyist asked me. 

Apparently not, and the cumulative effect of all these gaffes is likely to have a political impact on Obama’s approval rating. That matters. “It makes a difference in the states with close Senate races whether the president has 46 percent approval in them or 36 percent,” Democratic consultant Steve McMahon told MSNBC. “It hurts Democrats in close Senate races if the president is an object of ridicule.” 

Increasingly, the administration appears to have abandoned any attempt at controlling its own “optics.” Instead, the president appears to be focusing on twin passions: golf and garnering campaign cash in tony suburbs and resorts. 


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