If the world is in crisis, you wouldn’t know it by watching President Obama’s spring break. Between golf, basketball and the president’s upcoming trip to Rio de Janeiro, the White House is projecting a disinterested aura of business as usual. For this administration, “tuned-out” is the new normal.
The Mideast crisis is continuing, and Hillary Rodham Clinton has been the one taking the 3 a.m. phone calls. The secretary of state has been dealing with political reform in Egypt, a military crackdown in Bahrain and the continuing civil war in Libya. However, she is hampered by a chief executive who can’t make up his mind which course of action would best secure his place in history. It’s no wonder she took the opportunity to tell CNN she had no interest in continuing in the job in a theoretical Obama second term.
For the president’s part, he did manage to squeeze in a phone call to the kings of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to express his “deep concern over the violence in Bahrain” and stress “the importance of a political process as the only way to peacefully address the legitimate grievances of Bahrainis.” After this exercise in talking-point leadership, Bahrain’s crackdown continued apace. Mr. Obama’s views simply don’t matter to a world that views him as weak.
The news from Japan grows direr as the nuclear crisis intensifies. The Obama administration has shown considerably less interest in responding to this disaster - actually three disasters: earthquake, tsunami and potential nuclear meltdown - than it did to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. This is strange given the possibility for a monumental nuclear catastrophe and destabilizing the world’s third-largest economy, which also happens to be one of America’s best friends. A radioactive plume is set to hit the U.S. West Coast on Friday, and on Thursday President Obama said - twice - that “we do not expect harmful levels of radition to reach the U.S.”Either way, it certainly won’t pose a threat to the president, who by this weekend will be safe with his family on Brazil’s beaches.
Congress continued to debate a stopgap federal budget during the week, and on Tuesday the national debt scored a one-day $72 billion jump. Given the critical importance of the debate, it would be reasonable to expect Mr. Obama to be working hard to find a way out of the fiscal mess he largely created. The president, predictably, was nowhere to be found. Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, scored the president for his “failure to lead” on the budget issue, and Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, said the president was “absent from this debate.” Vice President Joe Biden, who was supposed to be representing the White House in the congressional budget wrangle, instead took a trip to Russia.
None of this is meant to suggest Mr. Obama hasn’t been productive. He laughed it up at the Gridiron Club dinner, took a stand against schoolyard bullying and spoke on the radio about Women’s History Month. Over the weekend, he played his 61st round of golf as president and finalized his March Madness bracket picks, predictably avoiding controversy by choosing the four top seeds for the Final Four. On Monday, he attended a gathering of potential big-money donors at the St. Regis hotel that Democratic Party officials insisted was not a fundraiser. Sure, it was not a fundraiser; and the White House isn’t coming across as disconnected, weak, passive and paralyzed either.