I continue to make my way through “The West Wing” as I work out each night. The most recent episode was night before last (I got home too late to work out last night) — “Disaster Relief,” episode number 6 in the 5th season.
This was the one when a tornado ripped through Oklahoma, and the president flew to the scene to show his concern. Originally, he wasn’t going to do this, but Press Secretary C.J. Cregg insisted. Once he is there, he gets way too much into it, just exuding compassion all over the place, and extending his stay to the point that even C.J. expresses her disappointment in him that he hasn’t headed back to Washington, where things are falling apart, to do his actual job.
(A side note: This is the 6th episode in the first season not written by Aaron Sorkin, and there has indeed been a dropoff in quality, as I had feared. C.J.’s change of mind isn’t portrayed convincingly. There’s a rather ham-handed slide toward disillusionment on her part over the last few episodes, and I’m getting tired of it. Worse, the nature of my favorite character, the gruff-but-lovable Leo, has changed. The gruffness is there, but the “lovable” part has gone AWOL. Sure, the Leo I know would let Josh know he was displeased, that he had screwed up. But he wouldn’t cold-bloodedly undermine him the way this new Leo did in this episode.)
But that’s not what I wanted to tell you about. What I wanted to talk about was this:
DALLAS — President Obama on Wednesday forcefully defended his decision not to visit the Texas border with Mexico to view a burgeoning humanitarian crisis, saying he’s “not interested in photo ops” and challenging Congress to give him new authority to respond to the situation.
“Nothing has taken place down there that I’m not intimately aware of,” Obama said during a hastily arranged news conference here, where he began a two-day visit to the state for Democratic fundraising and an economic event. “This is not theater.”…
To which I say, “Amen, Mr. President!” Sometime during the Clinton administration, I got completely fed up with this new role we’ve invented for POTUS, that of Emoter in Chief. I’ve had it up to here with staged demonstrations of concern, or with the nation waiting breathlessly for the president to strike the appropriate tone in a statement about something that has little or nothing to do with his job.
Yes, there is a such a thing as a leadership function, as military officers understand. You walk around checking on your people, making sure they’re fed and bedded down, on the night before the battle. Show that you care.
But folks, we have taken this to an extreme in this country. The president has enough enumerated duties, enough things he really needs to do, without constantly posing for the cameras. Unfortunately, too much of the presidency has become theater, and I like seeing POTUS push back on it a bit.
Yeah, it made him sound cold. And maybe little kids in desperate circumstances on the border isn’t the best place to draw the line. But I’m glad he felt motivated to draw it somewhere — if only out of defensive pique because the Republicans were landing some telling blows on him, which is what seems to have happened.