‘Photo op’ gaff reveals Obama’s tin ear
President Obama’s comment that “I’m not interested in photo ops” about the border crisis during last week’s visit to Texas was akin to your neighborhood pup not being interested in chasing squirrels. Particularly in today’s social-media madness of “selfies” and endless Internet traffic of other self-aggrandizing photo opportunities, cameras are catnip to politicians at all levels, and certainly the presidential. So Obama’s brush-off that the humanitarian plight of thousands of Central American children traveling on their own across the U.S.-Mexican border “is not theater” was a pretty lame excuse for not going down to eyeball it while he was in the state. His observation that nothing “has taken place down there that I’m not intimately aware of” smacked of White House indecision at the least. Was there concern of a negative political impact of the president being photographed with kids he has vowed will be sent back to their own countries? It will be recalled how Obama had hastened to the New Jersey shore during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy to buddy up and commiserate with Republican Gov. Chris Christie. He was rewarded then with fulsome appreciation from this conspicuous supporter of his election rival, Mitt Romney, nearing the end of that presidential campaign. Indeed, that particular photo op was later celebrated as critical in sealing Romney’s doom. This time around, Republicans and Democrats alike were quick to recall President George W. Bush’s mere Air Force One flyover of the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and how he was hammered for it long afterward. Some defenders noted then that a presidential visit and accompanying hoopla can detract from recovery actions required in any such disaster. The Obama White House didn’t play that card this time. Instead the president after meeting with Texas Gov. Rick Perry lectured the Texas congressional delegation on speeding his request for $3.7 billion in emergency aid to cope with the estimated 52,000 unaccompanied children who have crossed the border. “The challenge is, is Congress prepared to act to put resources in place to get this done?” he asked. “Another way of putting it is, are people more interested in politics than solving problems? If they are interested in solving the problem, this can be solved. If they prefer politics, the problem won’t get solved.” Obama said he suggested to Perry “that he has some influence over the Texas delegation,” and that “the only question at this point is why wouldn’t the Texas delegation and any of the other Republicans who are concerned about this not want to put this on a fast track and get it on my desk so I can sign it and we can start getting to work.” But Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn shot back: “We do not need a lecture from a man who refuses to even see the crisis firsthand.” The whole controversy comes in the context of the Obama administration’s recognition that general immigration reform can bring strong Democratic Party support among Latino Americans, who gave Obama about 70 percent of their votes in his 2012 re-election. The party hopes Latino turnout will help turn aside the Republican efforts to gain control of the Senate in November’s midterm elections. But in the current border crisis, in which thousands of children from Central America have made the arduous journey across Mexico and then the U.S. border, Obama himself has said that under existing law they face eventual return. Politically, it is a message that runs counter to the usual Democratic advocacy of greater welcoming of and sympathy toward immigrants. Obama recently has made more effort to get out of the Oval Office cocoon and take the public pulse. So dismissing a trip to the troubled border as “theater” and just another “photo op” seems somehow out of character, if not displaying a tin ear to the political ramifications of his failure to go. Public relations is supposed to be a strong suit of this gang that took the country by storm in 2008 with a charismatic, articulate fresh face in national politics leading the way. A bunker mentality in this instance seems incomprehensible, and unattractively defensive.