After American journalist James Foley was decapitated in a gruesome video released last week, President Barack Obama called the event appalling, commiserated with Foley’s parents via phone and departed for a round of golf with ex-NBA star Alonzo Mourning.
The criticism was immediate.
The president’s critics are eager to embarrass him and see him fail. Consequently everything he does — including whether he takes a vacation, at all, and when and where — is going to be subject to this sort of criticism.
But others looked askance at Obama’s quick exit to the golf course, as well.
The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd ridiculed the president with a lame, tacky take on the Gettysburg Address entitled “The Golf Address.”
Ezra Klein, editor-in-chief at the news site Vox, Twittered that golfing so soon after the Foley video was released was in “bad taste.”
Others called it “tone deaf.”
And, frankly, I cringed a bit, as well.
Look at what’s going on in the world besides Foley’s execution and the threat to his fellow journalist Steven Sotloff: American airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State; Putin threatening eastern Ukraine; the persistent conflict between Israel and Hamas; the unrest in Ferguson, Mo. We could go on.
Should the president be vacationing, at all, in times like these?
Of course, he should. And the nation would be healthier if we could get over worrying about whether this president — or any president — is goofing off on the job.
The presidency is the ultimate 24/7 job. Obama was accompanied in Martha’s Vineyard by a large entourage of advisers and other administrative functionaries.
He may take his girls out for ice cream, and he may play more than a few rounds of golf, but the ongoing responsibilities and stresses of his office are always close at hand.
So let’s agree that the president has a job that’s much more stressful, demanding, and all-consuming than most of us can imagine and that when he is “on vacation” he’s never really off duty.
Playing golf immediately after speaking by phone with Foley’s parents may not have been the best optical decision. But complaining about a president taking “time off” is petty and trivial.
And how does this small-minded carping look to the architects of the so-called Islamic State?
It doesn’t take much imagination to believe that some version of a war with this fanatical threat is close to inevitable. People who crucify and decapitate innocent people can’t be allowed to create a burgeoning caliphate, and clearly we’re only one semi-successful terrorist act away from a hot war.
And worrying about whether or how much the president plays golf is a thoroughly misplaced preoccupation that broadcasts irresolution. Our interests are better served by the exhibition of a determined, united front.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune, teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi. firstname.lastname@example.org