Politics & Policy

Keep Swinging, Mr. President

President Obama at Mid-Pacific Country Club in Hawaii, December 28, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Golfing is the best thing Barack Obama does.

Set aside Barack Obama the private man, about whom even now relatively little is known. The most likeable thing about Barack Obama the public man is his dedication to golf.

Conservatives hate President Obama’s commitment to his tee times. Or at least we pretend to. The talk-radio ranters and the cable-news mouthholes have tried to bully the president out of his leisure, going on and on about his putting around Martha’s Vineyard or Porcupine Creek while the world burns or Baton Rouge is submerged.

Those complaints are partly insincere — something has to fill up the minutes between doggie-vitamin commercials — and partly are an indirect complaint about media bias. Yes, the same press that savaged George W. Bush for his golfing and for his allegedly excessive vacation schedule has nothing to say about President Obama’s following that example. That is the way of things: Jackie Kennedy spent a little coin sprucing up the White House and she was single-handedly conferring “class” on the nation at large; Nancy Reagan bought a new set of china and it was the biggest crisis since Suez. The New York Times sniffed at Mrs. Reagan for ordering $200,000 worth of new Lenox for White House formal dinners; Mrs. Obama spent $290,000 on a single painting (by Alma Thomas) when she was redecorating a room in the White House — nothing. Mrs. Obama’s painting was not paid for by taxpayers, but then neither was Mrs. Reagan’s China, the tab for which was picked up by the nice people at the J. P. Knapp Foundation.

The hypocrisy should be noted, and complained about, but we should not let it make asses of us, if we can avoid it.

So Barack Obama likes his golf game.

RELATED: Hypocrisy on Presidential Golf Is Out of Bounds

There are some obvious and practical reasons not to discourage President Obama’s sporting pursuits. The most obvious of them is that every hour Barack Obama spends on the links is an hour he is not wrecking the republic, distorting its character, throwing monkey wrenches into its constitutional machinery, or appointing sundry miscreants and malefactors to its high offices. If golf is the only prophylactic we have against him, then Scotland’s second-greatest contribution to modern civilization is to be celebrated for doing work that the Supreme Court and Congress can’t quite manage.

But there is more than the consequentialist case for Obama’s golf.

One cannot consider the issue of presidential golfers without making reference to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was if not the greatest of them (Jack Kennedy and Gerald Ford were fine athletes) then arguably the most dedicated. He was constantly mocked for it, which Harry S. Truman rightly described as “picayunish.” (Of course, Eisenhower’s successor was excused for his languishing on the green, as well as his other less seemly sporting pursuits.) Eisenhower, a lifelong military man, understood the value of regimenting and partly compartmentalizing his life, and he stuck to his leisure schedule the way he stuck to most any other schedule — besides golf, he was a committed card player, described by friends as “addicted” to bridge with a sideline in poker.

Sometimes, the war room is the proper place for the president. Sometimes the golf course is.

But of course, Eisenhower could afford to goof around on the golf course all day. Nothing of any interest or consequence happened during the years of his presidency, except: The death of Stalin and the Soviets’ acquisition of the hydrogen bomb, Germany’s ascension to NATO, the fall of Dien Bien Phu, the end of the Korean War and a near nuclear confrontation with China, the Suez crisis, the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh, the Congo crisis, revolution in Cuba, the Formosa Resolution, a military intervention in Lebanon, the U-2 incident, two major civil-rights acts, Brown vs. Board of Education, Little Rock, the further rise and chaotic fall of Joseph McCarthy, and the addition of two new states.

You know what Eisenhower did? He commissioned a putting green for the White House.

He also handled all that other business with considerable grace and skill. Eisenhower, who had spent 16 years as a major before finally winning promotion — it took him the same amount of time to go from major to lieutenant colonel as it did for him to go from lieutenant colonel to president of the United States — was a patient, wily player of the long game. He had also held the fate of Western civilization — and, arguably, the human race — in his hands in a way that no military leader had before or has since when he was planning D-Day, and so he didn’t lose his cool every time something went wrong, whether it was the French screwing up Indochina or a military confrontation between Egypt and Israel.

The Eisenhower years were in fact crisis after crisis after crisis, and Eisenhower is the great illustration that great leadership often is leadership that nobody notices. It didn’t feel like the nation was in a constant state of crisis.

#related#Barack Obama is no Dwight Eisenhower — not by a damn sight. But he doesn’t need to bounce around like a human pinball every time there’s a flood in the Mississippi Delta or something goes sideways in Afghanistan, which has been going to Hell for most of recorded history. He’s the president of the United States, and he doesn’t need to hyperventilate over the comings and goings in piss-ant countries that exist only to trouble Americans on geography exams.

Sometimes, the war room is the proper place for the president. Sometimes the golf course is. Frankly, our executives should spend more time on the links. Perhaps Donald Trump in January will make one last donation to Hillary Rodham Clinton and give her a lifetime pass to his club in Palm Beach — or, better yet, the one in Dubai.


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