Above-the-fray or MIA? Obama’s leadership comes under fire

Published: Thursday, March 17 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obamas recent actions on the budget, the Middle East and Japan have been called part of his "above-the-fray" strategy, but many media sources arent buying it, as demands for more leadership pile up.

In an Associated Press story from March 12, reporter Jim Kuhnhenn said the presidents strategy is to keep a low profile on high-profile issues.

There is a very strong gravitational pull in this town to try to drag the president to every single political skirmish and news story, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer told Kuhnhenn. (The public) want him leading the country; they dont want him serving as a cable commentator for the issue of the day.

Just days before embarking on his first official visit to South America, however, the president has come under intense scrutiny from a variety of sources — both liberal and conservative — for his actions (or inactions) regarding Libya, the national budget and Japan.

Its hard to overstate how poorly Barack Obama is doing in the face of these crises, John Podhoretz writes in a Commentary Magazine post. Recall how much hay Michael Moore made of the fact that George W. Bush read 'My Pet Goat' for nine minutes in that Florida classroom on 9/11 after being informed that the first plane had struck. Were going on four weeks now, or more, that Barack Obama has been reading My Pet Goat.


While Japan tries to recover from Fridays 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that left at least 15,000 people dead or missing, a deteriorating nuclear situation and humanitarian challenges are piling up at an alarming rate. In the U.S., much of the criticism of Obamas handling of the situation revolves around what reporter Keith Koffler calls Obamas Trivial Pursuits."

In a blog post, Koffler blamed Senior Adviser David Plouffe and new White House Chief of Staff William Daley for permitting him to showcase himself as a poorly focused leader who has his priorities backward.

Koffler listed the childish distractions as including Obama videotaping his NCAA tournament picks and talking about them on ESPN, a Sunday golf outing, an appearance at the annual Gridiron Dinner, a weekly address focusing on Womens History Month, a White House conference on bullying and a Chicago Bulls game. Jim Geraghty at National Review points out Obama also spent this week talking education reform.

Jake Tapper at ABC News reports that while Obama revealed his NCAA picks on ESPN, he also encouraged those watching to donate to Japan relief. He also discussed Iraq, the Afghanistan war, fighting terrorism, education and other issues at a Thursday Democratic National Committee fundraiser.

In a National Review column, Fred Thompson suggested creating a Bracket of Leadership to help Obama focus.

Dont get me wrong, I like putting together an NCAA basketball tournament bracket just as much as the next guy, Thompson writes. But the difference between President Obama and the rest of us is that we arent calling a meeting of the White House communications staff to rehearse our bracket unveils for a national TV audience while ducking national-security issues, budget negotiations, Social Security reform meetings ... you get the idea.

White House press secretary Jay Carney responded to the criticisms, saying it was appropriate for the president to fill out a bracket, as he also used that time to ask for donations to help Japan.

There are crises all the time, and for every president. And again, this one is happening halfway around the world, and it is severe, and it is important, and it is the focus of a great deal of the presidents attention, as are the events in the Middle East, as are the agenda items that he is pursuing to grow the economy and increase jobs in American and make sure we out-innovate, out-build and out-educate the competition in the 21st century, Carney said.

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