On Sunday, President Obama suited up for work.
He put on his pants (most likely one leg at a time, but perhaps not), then slipped on his black windbreaker, the one with the presidential seal on one side, his name on the other (in case he forgets who he is). He put on some comfy sports socks, laced up his shoes real tight — it would be a long, hard day.
Then he grabbed his leather bag of tools, which also bears the presidential seal and the number “44” (in case he forgets which number president he is). He stomped out of the White House and boarded his presidential motorcade just before a pool of traveling reporters was ushered out (he would, again, go unseen for the day, not unlike Kim Jong-un of late).
That was at noon. And yes, you guessed it, the president was not off to “work,” but to play golf — and set a milestone in the doing. Mr. Obama was heading out for his 200th round since taking office. Two hundredth! Tiger Woods, perhaps the most famous professional golfer in the world, has played just 269 rounds since Jan. 20, 2009 — and that’s his day job. Go figure.
But then, this happened. “Pool just loaded into motorcade, and five minutes later unloaded. Back in briefing room. Clarity promised in 5 to 10,” wrote David McCumber of the Houston Chronicle, who had drawn print pool duty on the chilly, overcast fall day.
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Something had suddenly come up. What else could explain why the president was loaded and ready to roll, the media had been led out on leashes and put in their little metal pens for transport, but then the whole process had been aborted?
Had there been a calamitous development in any of the numerous simultaneously unfolding crises around the world? Had something just then happened that forced the president to call off his golf game and scramble into the White House, perhaps down to the Situation Room to handle the outbreak of World War III?
No. Not at all. The president rushed back into the White House to talk — by phone, mind you — with Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell. Even though news reports about a second diagnosed case of Ebola in the U.S. — the first actually to spread here — had hit the wires very early Sunday morning, the president was, hours and hours later, getting an update “on the response to the diagnosis.”
In answer to an emailed question, Mr. McCumber, the pool reporter, said: “We were loaded for trip to golf course, then unloaded, apparently because POTUS wanted to discuss Ebola situation with Sec. Burwell. After his phone convo we were loaded again.”
But that’s not really why. Mr. Obama rushed back into the White House for two reasons: First, it might look kinda’ bad for the president to have that important conversation in his limo on the way to the golf course; and two, what’s the point of doing something presidential if the press can’t post photos of it!?
The picture-taking session, called a pool spray, lasted just 40 seconds, CBS News’ Mark Knoller said in a tweet. But that’s long enough for a photo op. What’s more, the White House quickly put out an email titled “Readout of the President’s Call with Secretary Burwell.”
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“This morning the president was briefed on the diagnosis of a second case of Ebola in Dallas, Texas,” the statement began. “The president during the conversation directed that ” a bunch of actions items be undertaken (apparently no one can do their job unless Mr. Obama “directs” them on how to do it).
Of course, the president couldn’t just rush off to the course minutes after taking that important phone call (unlike the time he delivered a statement about an American beheaded by terrorists and then left immediately to play golf on Martha’s Vineyard). No, Mr. Obama dickered about a bit in the White House, heading to Fort Belvoir just before 1 p.m.
So, the president spent a few minutes on the phone, then five hours on the golf course. But then, that makes perfect sense: In the 40-second pool spray, shot from the walkway outside the Oval Office, one thing was glaring — there wasn’t a single thing on the president’s desk. Not a piece of paper, a folder, even a Post-it note.
So maybe Mr. Obama really has nothing to do. How else to explain a guy with an important job and two young daughters being able to pull off 200 rounds of golf in less than six years?
Funny, though, he never takes the press along for his golf outings.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.