Either President Obama has wings of Kevlar — or he has the most incompetent scheduling staff in White House history.
What president flies purposefully into the eye of a perfectly awful, two-front political storm, especially one as sordid as that plaguing North Carolina this week? Obama’s arrival in the Tar Heel State coincided with former Sen. John Edwards’ trial, as well as an exploding sexual harassment scandal involving the state’s Democratic Party leader. Jay Parmley recently resigned as executive director of the state party after an employee accused him of showing him a lewd photograph and making inappropriate sexual remarks.
Talk about the audacity of hope. Or is it the incompetency of arrogance?
Trouble is one thing presidents typically don’t seek out — especially during a tough re-election season. And North Carolina is nothing but trouble these days.
Edwards’ trial, which began Monday, not only promises resurrection of all the salacious details of his doomed tryst with Rielle Hunter, with whom he fathered a child while his wife, Elizabeth, was dying of cancer, but several high-profile Washington Democrats, including Obama’s deputy communications director, will likely be called as witnesses.
Perhaps the president is merely displaying confidence in his incumbency, or solidarity with his staff members. On the other hand, is he perhaps clueless? As Dana Perino, former communications director for George W. Bush, remarked: “Over my dead body would I have sent President Bush to a state like that to do an event.”
It isn’t that Obama has anything to do with either Edwards or Parmley, but he risks being dragged into the fray. You don’t want to be in the same camera frame or news cycle with the least attractive members of your party. Moreover, plenty of media will be on hand to ask uncomfortable questions, such as, for example: “Mr. President, will you be visiting the grave of Elizabeth Edwards while in the state?”
As unappealing as such a question seems, it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Obama ran against the Edwardses and knew Elizabeth. Such questions are never posed for the answer but are proffered for the express purpose of creating an awkward moment to which there really is no good answer. In other words, to trap the responder.
Bush staffers were well familiar with this routine, which is why they never would have allowed him to be in such a situation. Perhaps, as another close political observer suggested to me, the Obama White House has no such concerns. The media simply do not come after Obama in the same way they did Bush, notwithstanding recent research showing that Obama received the most negative coverage of any presidential candidate during the Republican primary. The Bush White House was under siege and conducted itself accordingly. No T’s went uncrossed.
This sort of attention to detail, as well as to decorum, characterized the tight ship known as the Bush White House. Whatever one thought of Bush’s policies, his administration’s management was a tribute to precision.
These distinctions are worth noting as they speak to top-down executive acuity. The CEO sets the bar and managers stand on their toes. What were Obama’s people standing on?
Obama’s trip was part of a three-state, three-university tour to make a case for keeping low-interest rates on student loans. Although some Republicans disagree with the president’s position, Mitt Romney agrees. It’s a pretty popular stance on university campuses, as one can imagine. The youth vote, which has been slipping away from Obama as job opportunities continue to be scarce, needed a little tweaking.
To that end, Obama was taping a show with late-night host Jimmy Fallon while in Chapel Hill. He was also scheduled to pre-tape with Jimmy Kimmel in advance of Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. But why North Carolina during this time?
White House scheduling concerns may seem like so much political arcana to the world beyond the Beltway. But just as questions sometimes reveal more than the answers they elicit, small details can reveal larger flaws in the infrastructure of an administration.
Either Obama’s staffers are so consumed with other matters that they failed to focus on what was happening down South. Or, they know they don’t have to worry about untoward treatment by the media.
Alternatively, this avoidable risk suggests a standard of laxity in the midst of a campaign tour masquerading as a policy parade. Revealingly, the president’s target audience consists of unwitting metaphors for the state of the union — unemployed and deep in debt.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.