President Obama has probably put the Secret Service on this one, and the FBI, the CIA and the D.C. cops, too. Who came up with that really dumb idea of putting out an official White House photograph of the president stalking clay pigeons with his shotgun?
Maybe it was the campaign consultant who gave Michael Dukakis a ride in an Abrams tank. (Maggie Thatcher had taken a similar ride two years earlier and looked like George S. Patton.) Or the wizard who decked out John Kerry in a lab suit that gave him the appearance of a giant sperm. The dodo who did that could have been the campaign consultant who advised Jimmy Carter to tell the famous story of how he was attacked by a killer rabbit.
Whoever it was, he or she made it worse by accompanying the photograph with the stern warning that “this [photograph] may not be manipulated in any way.” This was similar to telling a 4-year-old that he should “never try to put a pea up your nose.”
Some of the manipulated, or “Photoshopped” images on the Internet are hilariously telling. In one of them, the president fires his gun and a bouquet of petunias emerges from both barrels; in another, the president fires at the house where a celebrated terrorist was captured, over the caption: “the truth about how we got bin Laden.” In still another, he draws a bead on Bambi.
Even Michelle and the girls may be laughing, but not as hard as the gun owners and Second Amendment fans to whom this moment in the president’s grand gun-rights offensive was aimed. If the idea was meant to show that the president is just one of the good ol’ boys, as comfortable with shotguns and clay pigeons as he is practicing his three-point shot, the early and unanimous word is that the scheme went poof! Or maybe plouffe!
Indeed, the early speculation in the flackery shops in Washington was that David Plouffe, the political adviser who modestly identifies himself as the genius of the past two presidential elections, thought up the scheme and sold it to the president. Mr. Plouffe, not heretofore recognized as a wordsmith or coiner of memorable phrases, is leading the defense of the worst marketing idea since Coca-Cola came up with New Coke nearly three decades ago, only to concede three months later that New Coke was a colossal boo-boo. Mr. Obama has been called a lot of names — secret Muslim, native Kenyan, socialist-in-waiting — but none can sting like being likened to Elmer Fudd, the great white hunter in the world of Bugs Bunny.
Hunters and shooters cherish the photograph of the president staring down the barrel of a Browning 12-gauge shotgun, aiming it not at the sky where clay pigeons fly but straight ahead, as if aiming at a beer can atop a hickory stump.
“That looks pretty pathetic,” Rick Davenport of the Erie County (N. Y.) Sportsmen’s Federation told The New York Post. “That’s not skeet shooting. This is nothing but pandering to the sportsmen and hunters.”
Presidents have played good ol’ boy at their peril. Calvin Coolidge, who didn’t suffer fools gladly (or otherwise) nevertheless made himself look foolish when he cheerfully posed for a photograph in the full feathers of an Indian chief. However, he actually was a chief of the Sioux, if only by adoption, and he liked as well to be photographed in a Boy Scout uniform, short pants and all. Teddy Roosevelt was photographed with his guns, and no one doubted that he knew which was the business end of an elephant gun. But when John Kerry, as a candidate for president, called in the photographers he had to borrow a gun for a portrait of himself in a hunter’s camouflage suit. He had the look of a man who would rather be windsurfing in France.
The president put the arts of persuasion behind him with the beginning of a new week, and flew off to Minnesota to sit down with a group of cops and sheriffs to talk about guns, children, and how awful guns are. The president spent his hour in Minneapolis in a neighborhood described as “traumatized by abundant illegal guns.” But he was safely lodged deep in the bowels of the police department’s Special Operations Center. Everything was closed to the public, so it was not clear who he was trying to influence, since all the “attendees” were safely in agreement with him.
Just to take no chances, though, no shotguns and no cameras. There would be no manipulation.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.