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A Hard-Earned Vacation

Today President Donald Trump starts a planned 17-day vacation at his swank private New Jersey golf club, and we can hardly blame him for wanting to get away from the swamps of Washington, D.C., for a while. Thursday brought fresh leaks of some embarrassing phone calls Trump had with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia, as well as the news that the special counsel investigating the matter of what Trump now calls “Russia” has convened a grand jury, and that’s despite the best efforts of tough new chief of staff who was installed after a major administration shake-up and another week of rebukes by everyone from the Boy Scouts to America’s police chiefs to the Republicans in Congress.
The ostensible reason for the time away is that the White House is replacing its 27-year-old air-conditioning and heating system, and after the couple of sultry summers we’ve spent in Washington that seems plausible enough, although we’re not sure if President Andrew Jackson would have though so, and the timing does seem suspiciously fortuitous. Trump had long criticized his predecessor for spending too much time on golf courses, just as his predecessor had even more hypocritically criticized his predecessor for the same thing, and with his own private golf course being reimbursed by the government Trump will probably take an even worse public relations hit than either of them, but by now it could be a lot worse. If Trump can keep his thumbs gripped to a golf club rather than tapping out a “tweet” on his telephone, and stay away from interviews and otherwise avoid compounding his problems while his lawyers and remaining staff do their best to sort things out, that would probably be 17 days well spent.
The leaks about those embarrassing phone calls with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia had already been partially leaked way back in Trump’s second week of the job, but despite the momentary embarrassment Trump was able to dismiss them as “fake news” with with the politely oblique help of the other countries involved, and it was quickly forgotten in all the other news that kept coming. This time around there are full transcripts of the conversations, which are even more embarrassing in full context, and the White House is neither confirming nor denying their veracity, and neither are the other two governments involved, and by now the guy embarrassing himself on those transcripts sure does sound an awful lot like Trump.
The phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull reveals Trump trying to weasel out of a deal the United States had during struck his predecessor’s administration to take in 1,250 refugees, getting the numbers involved and other basic facts of the deal wrong along the way, frankly worrying how it would “It would make me look terrible,” and abruptly ending the conversation after saying that he’d had a much more pleasant telephone call that day with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
Worse yet, as far as Trump’s most loyal supporters might be concerned, in the phone call with Mexican President Pena Nieto he seemed to concede that he’d never really meant all that campaign rhetoric about making Mexico pay for a wall across the entire southern border, but expected the Mexican government to play along with it for the ruse for a while. Nieto bluntly said Spanish equivalent of “nyet,” so far the Republican majorities in Congress have been similarly reluctant to cough up the funding for a border wall, and this is not a good time for people to be reminded about it along with all the further “fake news” leaks that can neither be denied by confirmed by the White House.
The leaks about the special counsel convening a grand jury to issue all sorts of subpoenas in that “Russia” investigation have also been neither confirmed nor denied by the White House, so they’re also looking pretty credible, and although you can spin it so it’s not such a bad thing there’s no way of making it out to be a good thing. That special counsel has a formidable reputation as a dogged but by-the-book investigator, and according to the book the paneling of a grand jury implies some pretty darned prima facie evidence that something fishy’s going on, and for now all questions about it are being referred to the president’s and his family’s and staff’s outside legal counsel.
Given all the other leaks about “Russia” that have neither been confirmed nor denied over the past eight months or so, and instead been to referred to all the various outside counsels that are now involved, we can easily understand why Trump is wanting some rest and relaxation on a familiar golf course. Someone pretty high up in Trump’s administration  is leaking the latest leaks, too, so all the more reason to take some time off from whomever that might be. We’re sure he’ll still be in constant communication with the rest of the executive branch while he’s contemplating a chip shot, just as his predecessors claimed to do, and we hope he at least breaks par.
According to some rather embarrassing leaks to Golf Magazine and Sports Illustrated, though, Trump is also  a notorious golf cheat who routinely claims to have broken par, and so far the White House neither confirms nor denies this.

— Bud Norman

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Trump Comes Out of the Woods

President Donald seems to have had a nice break from his political torments over Father’s Day weekend. The barrage of bombshell revelations about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia largely ceased fire, the other bad news didn’t implicate him directly and was largely overlooked, and after a long separation he got to spend some quality time with his youngest son.
We truly hope the father-and-son interactions went well, as the kid seems all right to us — by “the kid” we mean the son — and the old guy lately seems in need some of calming quiet time. The weekend was largely spent at Camp David, we note, and we also hope that helped with both the family dynamics and the political problems.
A military-run facility a short helicopter ride away from the White House but hidden in one of the last rural areas of Maryland, Camp David has been the preferred presidential get-away since President Franklin Roosevelt converted the Works Progress Administration’s High Cactocin resort project to an executive retreat and re-named it “Shangri-La.” Former small town Kansas boy President Dwight Eisenhower was particularly fond of the remote location and rustic atmosphere of the place, and re-named it again in honor of a recently born grandson. Since then every president has taken frequent advantage of the world-famous Camp David, with President Jimmy Carter using the place to finalize the “Camp David Accords” that brought a still-lasting peace between Israel and Egypt, President Bill Clinton attempted to use it for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that didn’t work out so well, while all the Republicans reasonably preferred to use it as a convenient and relatively low-cost way to escape from all that for a weekend and get back to nature and play some golf or shoot some skeet.
Until this past weekend, though, Trump had conspicuously avoided the place. After a brief tour of Camp David he told an interviewer that it was “a place you’d like really like, for about 20 minutes,” and seemed to make clear that remote and rustic were not qualities that appealed to his rich New York City tastes, not matter how any previous sorts of Republicans might have liked that kind of thing. In the bitterly cold months of his early presidency Trump preferred to have both his get-away time and his high-level diplomatic negotiations at his very ritzy and wholly-owned Mar-a-Lago resort outside Palm Beach, Florida, and as summer arrived and South Florida seemed less suited to golf and other high-level negotiations he moved his second White House to another very ritzy and wholly-owned resort in the last sparsely-populated portion of New Jersey.
That arrangement worked out well for Trump in financial terms, with much of the even-bigger-than-Obama travel-and-security-and-entourage costs flowing directly into the coffers of wholly-owned Trump businesses and all sorts of people paying higher prices for entree due to the sudden cachet, but it was taking a political toll. All the opinion polls show Trump widely unpopular, even that outlier Rasmussen survey that shows him with a mere 50 percent disapproval rating, and the Palm Beach Post was delighted to inform its recently tax-burdened readership that some more specific polling shows that the extravagant weekends at the wholly-owned properties were unpopular even with Trump’s most loyal supporters. Two state and district attorneys general and a couple hundred members of Congress have lately filed suits about how Trump business are profiting from the Trump presidency, too, so Trump’s many public and private lawyers were probably also recommending some rest and relaxation at Camp David. Call us cynical, but we suspect all that had something to with Trump’s Father’s Day itinerary.
Even so, we truly hope that the rather abbreviated time they spent together at Camp David did both Trump and son some real good. At this point we have an admittedly mythic conception of Camp David, and although we’re pretty sure it’s quite ritzy by our prairie standards we also imagine that there really is something remote and rustic about the place by presidential standards, and we’d like to think that’s what every previous sort of Republican and even the Democrats found so quintessentially American and rejuvenating about it. There’s something remote and rustic about getting away from it all and back to nature that puts things in perspective, even it is still ritzy, and a rich New York City sensibility probably needs that more than most.
We hate to drag Trump’s kid into the this, as he seems all right, and nothing that’s happened is any more his fault that anything all those previous presidential children were dragged into, but he’s there in the news and we can’t help thinking how very weird his life must be, and how much good even a brief connection with the universal experience of nature might do him. By our own good fortune we had a better dad than that kid does, and he often took us out into the woods with guns and fishing rods and cameras to demonstrate the profound life lessons he had learned under the open sky, and although we never acquired his appreciation of hunting and fishing and photography the lessons about the beauty of the natural and good order have served us well, and we hope that the youngest Trump picked up something of that along the way.
Today is Monday and the barrage of bombshell revelations about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia will probably continue, and there will be more bad news that people will say implicate Trump, but here’s hoping that a father-and-son weekend at Camp David will mitigate at least some of that.

— Bud Norman

On the President’s Weekly Winter Vacation

Except for howling winds and an extended dry spell the weather’s been nice and warm around here lately, the Wichita State University Wheatshockers are heading into collegiate basketball’s championship tournament on a 15-game blow-out streak, and so far it’s been a pretty good March in our patch of the prairie. Still, we can’t help noticing with a certain wistfulness all the references to Mar-a-Lago in the latest news.
Usually around this time of year in Kansas we’re chattering our teeth and wishing for a south Florida vacation, and fondly recalling that one especially bitter winter when we did escape to a week of driving around Miami in a rented convertible V-8 Mustang, which yielded lots of funny stories we still like to tell, but even our most fanciful late winter fantasies never included anything quite so fancy as Mar-a-Lago. A very Republican friend of ours said the other day that he’d never heard of Mar-a-Lago, so perhaps we should explain to a general readership that it’s a Great Gatsby-esque mansion and sprawling estate complete with golf courses and tennis courts and all sorts of amenities located on a prime stretch of Palm Beach real estate that Trump had turned into a $100,000-a-year resort before he became president, and now uses as the “Winter White House” while charging a recently raised $200,000-a-year fee for the rest of the guests, and by all accounts it’s very swank.
Trump has spent five weekends there since being sworn in as president just last January, and the taxpayers have spent an estimated $3.5 million per visit, which is also pretty damned swank, even by government standards, and we can’t help thinking that it would be a bigger story if he weren’t there “tweeting” unsubstantiated charges about his wires being tapped and thus dominating the next days’ news cycles.
We spent much of the past eight years grousing about how many vacations President Barack Obama took and how many rounds of golf he played, and sneering about how his Martha’s Vineyard getaways belied his man-of-the-people image, and how damned expensive it was for the actual people, and feeling sorry for partisan Democrats who had to make excuses for it after eight years of grousing about George W. Bush’s far cheaper recreation expenses and rounds of golf. So far Trump has gone out of town for non-business-related reasons and played and golf far more often than Obama did, and racked up monthly travel bills equal to what to Obama rang up in a year, and seems to think he proved his Jacksonian populism by pouring ketchup over the well done steaks he ordered at the Great Gatsby-esque resort where the government pays the tab even as he collects it, and because we were Republicans long before Trump ever was we’re not about to make any excuses for five straight weekends at Mar-a-Lago.
Should Trump ever bless the nation with a slow news day we’re sure his antagonists in the media will be able to fill it with some standby stories about Trump’s unusual buyer and seller arrangement with Mar-a-Lago, and the potential that a mere $200,000 a year membership could buy access to the president, and how top-secret negotiations were conducted there within earshot of waiters and busboys and other diners in the restaurant, and how it really doesn’t fit with the image of a champion of the black-lunged West Virginia coal miner and opioid-addicted former factory worker from the Rust Belt. Nor does it comport to our old-fashioned Republican fantasy of a Republican president working overtime at the actual White House on the weekend to get all those policies just right so that the damned Democrats couldn’t make such easy hash of them, and we can only imagine what the the Democratic media will make of it.
The press is already taking note of who isn’t going to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend with Trump, the latest reports have some of the famously feuding top White House staff left behind, and even over the work week it’s hard to find any evidence even in the friendliest meeting that the administration is humming along like the finely-tuned machine that Trump swears it is. Perhaps Trump will find some insight at Mar-a-Lago that repays the taxpayers’ expense, but until he does the resentment is likely to rise, even if Trump’s much boasted-about extravagance was one of his selling points. Trump used to grouse about Obama’s vacationing and golfing extravagance, too, and so long as we’re stuck here on the prairie we’ll fell free to grouse about them both. From what we hear, the weather’s been pretty mild in Washington, D.C., too.

— Bud Norman

How to Begin a Stormy Monday

Although the rest of the world seemed to continue right along on its downward trajectory, judging by the snippets of news we found time to peruse, at least the rest of the weekend here on the prairie provided some much needed distractions.
Our retreat from reality began Friday evening, when we noticed that Netflix had at long last come through with a fourth season of “Orange is the New Black,” its very popular and oh-so-critically acclaimed women-in-prison saga. Despite our usual aversion to anything popular or acclaimed by the current batch of critics we’ve always been suckers for a women-in-prison saga, so we devoted an embarrassing amount of the next 24 hours to binge-watching that. To avoid the risk of any plot spoilers we’ll just say we found it pleasantly distracting, despite a disappointing paucity of the nude shower scenes and lesbian frisson that makes the women-in-prison genre so compelling, and we’re pleased that this previously very feminist take on the genre seemed very sympathetic to some of the male characters, and it even takes the side of the flawed but mostly idealistic warden over his obnoxious girlfriend, even if it blames that on her corporate job at a for-profit prison company, and we’ll eagerly be awaiting for who knows how many months to find out how the season-ending and racially-charged cliff-hanging prison riot turns out. Oops, sorry for that plot spoiler.
Saturday involved a funeral for the very fine and most interesting fellow who always sat just one pew in front of us at church, and an overdue haircut with our neighborhood barber, who is so good at his job and charges such reasonable prices that you have to book an appointment a week in advance, and in between these choirs and throughout the evening there were the thunderstorms that often pop up around this time of year. The recent torrential rains have made the grass throw thick and tall, but provided us with an excuse for not cutting it, and for finishing an entire season of a women-in-prison saga, and on the whole they were another pleasant and slightly cooling distraction.
Sunday was Father’s Day, and our Mom and Pop have moved back to town from Back East after a few decades so following church we had a pleasant lunch with the both of them, with the conversation only slightly touching on the news as we all agreed it’s too unpleasant to talk about on such a nice sunny day. Of course Father’s Day always comes during the final round of the United States Open Golf Championship, and our Pop was an avid golfer who once hit a much-bragged about hole-in-one, so there was some talk about that, as well as ancient horse racing history, due to some movies they’d recently watched, as well as the evening’s deciding seventh game in the National Basketball Association’s championship. Our Mom’s a rather astute sports fan as well, and was able to correct our Pop that the NBA finals were indeed that night, but we wound up not missing it all while at the Wichita Music Theater’s production of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” at downtown’s Century II building.
As former theater critics for the local newspaper, back when it had the money and staffing to review local theater, we can tell you it was such as great show that we didn’t mind missing the games at all. A guy we always liked named Dustin Johnson won his first major championship at the U.S. Open, the Cleveland Cavaliers won that city its first major professional championship in 52 years, upsetting the defending Golden State Warriors and depriving San Francisco of yet another trophy, and we had Gershwin music happily in our eyes as we read the results. We took a peek at the rest of it, and will get around to that during a dreary week that includes dentistry and other unhappy chores, but for now we’re savoring the respite from reality.

— Bud Norman

The Problem That Cannot Be Named

There is much going on the world that we are expected to believe has nothing to do with Islam. Just over the past weekend a symposium on free speech in Copenhagen was attacked by a gunman who murdered a cartoonist who dared portray Mohammad in a satirical manner, and later that same day in that city there was another murder outside of a synagogue where a young woman was having her Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Meanwhile the terrorist army calling itself Islamic State continues its bloody spree across a large swathe of the Middle East with mass executions by the most the barbaric methods proscribed in Koranic scripture, extending its influence into new countries and to within a few miles of the last American troops remaining in Iraq, with similar problems occurring in nations from Yemen to Libya and beyond.
No less a progressive personage than the President of the United States has declared that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” and described the Parisian kosher deli where other Jews were recently murdered as a “random” target, and assured the public that the Islamic State is a “jayvee team” of terrorism and “the tide of war is receding,” and insists on the tautology that known of this can possibly have anything to do with Islam because Islam is a religion of peace. He has issued the obligatory statement condemning the murder of the Danish cartoonist, without any mention of what might have motivated it, although he was too busy with golf and fund-raisers to comment on the attack at the Danish synagogue. If if all he knows about that attack is what he read in The New York Times he won’t even know that it was at a synagogue, and he’ll probably attribute that coverage to the same “if it bleeds it leads” journalism that prompts coverage of car wrecks and local crime, but he will no doubt be troubled to learn from that paper’s reports that “anti-Muslim sentiment is one the rise on in Europe.”
Despite his boasts of having pulled all but a relative handful of troops of Iraq, mostly those “advisers” who know find themselves within shelling distance of the Islamic State, and despite his many years of criticizing the congressional action that sent troops to Iraq in the first place, the president has dispatched troops to Kuwait and asked Congress to pass an authorization for the use of military force against whatever is causing this recent trouble. The authorization would only grant three years of military force and prohibits “enduring offensive ground combat operations,” which is facing opposition from both Republican hawks who find it too passive and Democratic doves who find it too bellicose, but at least it represents an acknowledgement that something is causing a problem.
Naming the source of that problem might be a good start toward solving it, but that step apparently must wait at least another two years. In the meantime, we’ll be too polite to admit that it is what the perpetrators insist it is.

— Bud Norman

The Real Threat of the Ebola Virus

We still haven’t panicked about the Ebola virus, but the news that President Barack Obama cancelled two days of fundraising to deal with the disease has made us a bit more nervous. Only a matter of the utmost seriousness would interrupt the president’s fundraising, judging by some of the earth-shaking events that haven’t dented the schedule, and we’re not reassured that he’s taking charge.
The news is chock full stories suggesting that we’re all going to die, and even the most optimistically skeptical reader can’t help concluding that the government’s response has thus far been inept, but we suspect that the president’s newfound urgency has more to do with a growing threat to his approval ratings in the public opinion polls, which are lately low enough that the Democratic candidates in flyover country are declining to say if they ever voted for the guy. People get skittish about deadly diseases flying in unimpeded from the third world, and there’s already a widespread public perception that the president spends an inordinate amount of time fundraising and golfing and hanging out with his fellows celebrities while the world burns, so some photo-ops with a few anonymous health care workers and the equally anonymous cabinet are just what the spin doctor ordered.
Thus far Democratic efforts to score political points from the Ebola virus have faltered, with even The Washington Post giving a “Four Pinocchios” rating to the claim that evil Republican budgets are the reason we’re all going to die and the more conservative media having great fun with all the frivolous studies of feces-flinging chimpanzees and other esoteric subjects that the relevant agencies have been spending all those billions on rather fighting deadly viruses that fly in unimpeded from the third world, but the president’s photo-ops might prove more effective. They not only reassure his dwindling fan base that he’s still on the job, but also distract attention from a variety of other unsettling stories. The Islamic State terror gang’s rampage through the Middle East has spilled into the streets of Europe, the stock markets continue to slide in response to a slew of bad economic news, all those long-forgotten scandals are still under investigation, a wily unpopular executive action granting amnesty to millions of people who have already snuck into the country is still being threatened, and the kids are still grousing about the First Lady’s school lunch menus. Success stories for those Democratic candidates in flyover to tout are hard to find, too, so the making the Ebola virus a higher priority than even fund-raising and the fact we haven’t all died yet is bound to help more than another speech about billionaire-loving Republicans in front of a bunch of billionaire Democrat donors.
This might seem a cynical assessment, but the only alternative explanation is that the threat posed by the Ebola virus is as dire as the most alarmist stories suggest and that the president feels he needs to personally take control. This would cause us to panic, and we’d prefer not to.

— Bud Norman

Another Vacation From History

Why did Nero fiddle as Rome burned? Because golf had not yet been invented.
That’s about the best joke we can come up with in these glum days of the republic, and of course it was inspired by President Barack Obama’s latest vacation. We don’t mean to begrudge the poor fellow some rest and relaxation, as he has a lot of responsibilities to dodge, but now does seem an odd to be heading off to the links. Not that we think it would do any good for him to be hanging around the White House during the ongoing crises, but even such supportive press pundits as the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank are thinking it makes for “bad optics,” as they say in the politics biz, and it leaves him wide open to cheap shots from less sympathetic pundits such as ourselves.
At least he was on the job right up to the very moment his helicopter whisked him away, dodging responsibility at a news conference for the current crucifixions-and-everything mess in Iraq. One of the reporters had the lese-majeste to ask if the current slaughter being inflicted on that unfortunate nation by the Islamic State in Levant gang that the president had recently dismissed as a “jayvee team” of terrorists had caused him to reconsider his decision in 2011 to remove all the American troops that had successfully been keeping a sort of peace there. “What I find it interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up,’ he replied, “as if this was my decision.”
We find it interesting that the president finds it interesting such an obvious question keeps coming up, and quite surprising that he would now claim it wasn’t his decision to bug out of the country. He ran for election on promise to do so, ran for re-election on the boast that he had kept that promise, and had cited the stable and peaceable Iraq that he had left behind as one of his administration’s greatest achievement. There was also some talk about the status of forces agreement that his predecessor had negotiated, although that always went unmentioned when he was boasting about the withdrawal, and some more talk about the impossibility of negotiating a new treaty that might have averted the present catastrophe, but it won’t make much difference except to the more dedicated people who voted for him because of the decision he now disavows.
Those die-hard fans will happily credit Obama with the decision to pull all of America’s troops from Iraq and simultaneously blame his predecessor for the catastrophic consequences, as is their wont. Back when the Solyndra company opened its shiny new factory Obama was eager to credit it to his stimulus bill, when it went belly-up he blamed it on a Bush-era program, and at both points his loyal fans nodded in agreement. The president tells the die-hard environmentalists that he’s fighting domestic coal and oil production tooth-and-nail, tells the rest of the country that he’s presided over an energy boom, and gets the same hearty applause on both occasions. He rails against the stingy Republican nay-sayers who won’t fund his transformative and expensive agenda, boasts about he’s halved the budget deficit since they took over from a rubber-stamp Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and can count on none of his fans getting suspicious. Until recently he could also count on the major media to politely ignore the contradictions. He can even rail against income inequality in between opulent vacations on fashionable Martha’s Vineyard and golfs on a famed course with well-heeled ex-jocks without the utter hypocrisy being highlighted on the late night comedy shows.
None of this does any does any good for the Christians or Yazidis ofr the less fruitcake varieties of Muslims who have lately been slaughtered in the most archaic ways by that jayvee team that the president had laughingly dismissed as nothing to worry about, and at this point we don’t think it will do any better for the Democratic candidates trying to win congressional seats in the upcoming mid-term elections. The press is starting to notice that the world is unraveling from a lack of American leadership, not just in Iraq but in Syria and Libya and Gaza and Ukraine and the South China sea, and and that 99 percent that the president stands for is starting to notice that they’re not invited.

— Bud Norman

The Presidential Boob Tube

As much as we’d like to be snobbish about it, honesty compels us to admit we rarely watch television for reasons that are not all high-minded. We’re too much the cheapskates to shell out the exorbitant prices for cable television, our nocturnal schedule is out of sync with the networks, and most of our spare time is spent listening to antique honky-tonk music or reading English comic novels or brooding about the sorry state of the world. Not watching television no longer has the intellectual cachet it had back in the days when the high-brows lamented a “vast wasteland,” anyway, and except for the classics we occasionally find on Netflix what little television viewing we do is mostly devoted to such low-brow fare as the “Green Acres” and “Sea Hunt” re-runs that come over-the-air as we fall to sleep.
Even so, we can’t help feeling a wee bit superior to the President of the United States. We have been apprised of the President Barack Obama’s viewing habits by no less an authority than The New York Times’ television critic, and what he reports is alarming.
Which is not the reaction that The Times intended, of course. Ever eager to flatter the president, and without anything flattering to plausibly say about Obamacare or the deteriorating situation in the Middle East or any of the other consequences of the administration’s policies, The Times has apparently been reduced to bolstering the president’s reputation as an intellectual by lauding his exquisite taste in television programs. Headlined “Obama’s TV Picks: Anything Edgy, With Hints of Reality,” the story gushes over the president’s masterful command of the White House channel changer. After noting the weighty responsibilities of Obama’s office, the writer notes with unmistakable approval that “in his quiet moments, this president seeks not to escape to the delicious back-stabbing of the ‘Real Housewives’ or the frivolity of the singing teenagers on ‘Glee.’ By his own accounts, Mr. Obama is drawn in his spare time to shows like HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ the kind of heavy, darkly rendered television that echoes the sadness and strife that make up so much of his workday.” Similar admiration shines through as the writer notes that Obama is watching a box set of “Breaking Bad” discs, is eager for the next season of the Netflix series “House of Cards,” and is also a regular viewer of “The Wire,” “Mad Men,” “Homeland,” and “Downton Abbey.” The Times believes these choices provide a hopeful insight on the president’s political philosophy, and quotes the creator of “The Wire” saying that his show represents “the America that Mr. Obama is keen to transcend.”
We’ve seen either little or nothing of most of the shows mentioned, and thus cannot render judgment on the president’s tastes, but we doubt that his preferences reveal an unusual profundity or justify his presidency. Each of the shows are famous enough that we are aware of their acclaim by the likes of The New York Times’ television critic, which is effusive enough that one needn’t be embarrassed in sophisticated circles to admit to watching them rather reading Thucydides or Noam Chomsky or the Dodd-Frank Act or similarly weighty fare, but we are not at all amazed that president’s taste align so neatly with the consensus of pseudo-intellectual opinion. We’ve seen enough of “Glee” to be slightly surprised that the president isn’t susceptible to both its teenaged frivolity and its relentless propagandizing for homosexuality, and after enthusiastically watching every episode of the terrific “The Wire” we’d have expected the president to be a bit put off by its frank depiction of a thoroughly corrupt African-American political machine and the dysfunctions of a fatherless urban underclass, neither of which he seems at all interested in transcending, but otherwise it’s much as we’d have assumed.
Perhaps it is heartening that the president isn’t indulging in “Green Acres” and “Sea Hunt” through the old rabbit ears in the early morning hours, but we can’t help being worried by what a dedicated couch potato they president seems to be. Each of the president’s favorite programs are sprawling epics that require considerable time, and we’ve binge-watched just enough of them to know how they can cut deeply into a working day. Dishes have gone unwashed and floors unswept around here as a result of old premium cable series on Netflix, and it is therefore worrisome to think that the far more consequential chores of a president might go undone as a result of a television addiction. Elsewhere in The Times we are told that the president’s unprecedented presidential golf habit is “Carrying On a Presidential Tradition, One Leisurely Round at a Time,” as if Obama’s time on the links somehow makes him another Eisenhower, but it cannot dispel a nagging suspicion that Obama isn’t quite the workaholic one might want in the Oval Office.
On the other hand, given what the president has done during intermittent time on the job, we might grateful for any distractions he might encounter. A while back we became hooked on Netflix’ always-available episodes of the “The Tudors,” an obviously expensive multi-season tale about a megalomaniacal monarch’s treacherous intrigues, to the point we got almost nothing else done, and we’d highly recommend the series to the president.

— Bud Norman

Laid-back

There was an abundance of news on Monday, but two stories in particular caught our attention. Neither was at all surprising, and compared to a bench-sitting basketball player publicly declaring his homosexuality they might not seem very newsworthy, but the juxtaposition of two was fascinating nonetheless.
One was a report that President Barack Obama has thus far devoted twice as much time to golf and vacations than to meetings devoted to the economy. We spotted this at the cheekily conservative Breitbart.com web site, which was predictably indignant about the presidential schedule, and at Britain’s primly conservative The Telegraph, which seemed to find the president appallingly lazy even by British standards, but lest you suspect these right-wing muckrakers were making it up they both cited an analysis by the Government Accountability Office. The agency is famously non-partisan, which means they tend favor Democrats, and it made generous estimates of how long it takes for Obama to complete a round of golf and how much time he devotes to business while on vacation, so the muckrakers are likely understating their case.
The other item that caught our eye, appearing in Vanity Fair, took a decidedly different view. The glossy magazine for glossy readers, which recently hosted the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner after-party for “Hollywood A-listers and Washington insiders,” ran a “photographic investigation of the ‘lean-back’ president.” A fawning introduction gripes that “Barack Obama receives ample flak from critics who say that he is too buttoned-up and reserved to thrive in an office that historically has required its fair share of cajoling, socializing, and even arm-twisting,” but insists that “Obama can, in fact, be remarkably laid-back.” We’re not sure who those critics are who lament Obama’s reserve and lack of haranguing, schmoozing, and Chicago-style political tactics, although they are probably to his left, but apparently even Brietbart.com and The Telegraph have already noticed that he can be laid-back. To further emphasize the point, however, Vanity Fair’s photographer shows us the president with his feet atop the Oval Office’s historic Resolute Desk, sitting tie-less with his advisers, more shots of the feet on the desk, and another shot with his feet on some non-descript coffee table, all of which invite the reader to marvel at very cool the president can be.
There’s something to be said for a laid-back personality, which is quite endearing in poets, musicians, and certain other occupations, but it’s not a quality that is necessarily well-suited to a president. When the president is spending more time on his golf game than the economy that is laying back a bit too far. On the other hand, with this particular president the less time he spends meddling in the economy the better.

— Bud Norman

Unrequited Love

Pity the poor White House press corps, tortured by unrequited love. No matter how hard they try to please their man, no matter how servile they become, they are given nothing in return but scorn.
Like a teary guest on an afternoon talk show, the White House press corps has at last begun to speak up for itself and demand the respect that its endless devotion to President Barack Obama has surely earned. The White House Correspondents’ Association didn’t formally protest Obama’s stonewalling on Fast and Furious, Solyndra, Benghazi, or any of the administration’s other serious scandals, only a lack of access during the most recent presidential vacation, but at least it is a start. As any afternoon talk show host will tell you, every emotional journey begins with a single small step.
One can certainly sympathize with the reporters, who were confined to a “party bus” while the president enjoyed a round of golf at a swank country club. Aside from the horrors of their hours-long confinement in the “party bus,” which according to one reporter “may sound more fun than it is,” the reporters were understandably miffed that they were kept away from a newsworthy event. Obama was playing against Tiger Woods, after all, and the mismatch of the century would certainly have made for interesting spectating.
Nor is there any apparent reason for such appalling treatment of a press corps that has always served the president well. Great Britain’s Daily Mail insinuates that Obama thought it might look bad to be photographed playing a stereotypically upper-class game at a ritzy Florida resort with the most notorious womanizer since Bill Clinton, and at a time when the nation’s economy is struggling and Obama is railing against the rich, but the British press is always much cheekier about these sorts of things than its American counterpart. We expect the reporters would have endeavored to make the event sound very glamorous and Camelot-y, yet not at all inconsistent with his populist rhetoric, and perhaps even kicked a few balls out of the rough for the president.
Typical of the press coverage was the Los Angeles Times’ story on “a more relaxed Obama,” which explained that “Obama’s vacations have been rare, brief and regularly interrupted by crises at home and overseas.” We do not know what the Times’ vacation policy provides, but if the paper truly considers Obama’s vacation schedule so pitiably stingy we will be sending them a resume forthwith. As for the regular interruptions by crises at home and overseas, we can’t recall the Times offering any such excuses for the previous president’s less frequent retreats to his family ranch. Of course the Bush family ranch was in Crawford, Texas, a hard-scrabble patch of prairie where the sun shines mercilessly in the summer and there’s not a decent bistro for miles, so even the free-ranging reporters of that era found it more onerous than even the most primitive “party bus.”
There’s no stopping the dogged determination of the White House press corps, though, and fans of a free press will be heartened to know that when the reporters finally got an opportunity to shout a question at Obama it was to find out if he had beaten Tiger Woods. The American press might not be so love-struck as the North Korean press that reported Kim Jong Il had shot a sizzling 38-under-par on his first try at the game, but it is getting there.

— Bud Norman