Politico has figured out Barack Obama’s big problem — and it’s golf

Barack Obama enjoys playing golf! Here's why that totally unusual hobby perfectly explains the man's presidency

Topics: Barack Obama, Media Criticism, John Boehner, Michael Hirsch, Politico, Editor's Picks, Golf, Sports, presidency, ,

Politico has figured out Barack Obama's big problem -- and it's golfBarack Obama waves to onlookers at Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, Mass., Aug. 17, 2013. (Credit: AP/Steven Senne)

President Barack Obama enjoys playing golf. What does that mean? Reader, it means everything. That’s according to Politico Magazine’s Michael Hirsch, who spends 24-25 million words today explaining “what Barack Obama’s golf game tells us about his presidency.” Welcome to August In The Political Media! No pants required.

Obama famously plays a lot of golf — mostly on weekends, and about everyday when he’s on vacation. That’s because golf is fun! This writer, too, plays golf. (I can’t afford it, but I’m not very good at managing money, so YOLO.) It’s a game that, once you get addicted to it, you try to play during every non-workday or moment of downtime you get, especially when you start showing signs of improvement. And if you’re the president, not only do you get to play without long waits or difficulty scheduling tee times, but you get to focus on something else with your buddies for a little while. People have hobbies and Barack Obama’s favorite hobby appears to be playing golf, the end.

Hirsch, however, thinks there’s a lot more to the president’s golfing than a mere enjoyment of the game. After establishing that Obama plays a lot of golf — again, it’s true! — we are gradually led to the following conclusions about his personality and his presidency:

He relies too closely on a small circle of advisors. “At a time of unprecedented polarization between the parties—and with no one of sufficient stature out there to bridge the gap—this tells us something about Obama’s ‘insularity’ (as Van Natta expressed it to my colleague Glenn Thrush back in 2011). He is a president who relies on a small circle of trusted advisers, and he harbors a well-known distaste for hanging with the people he needs to bring over to his side—but has mostly failed to—on Capitol Hill.”

You Might Also Like

He is disdainful of new ideas. ”It’s fair to question whether his isolationism on the course reflects his entire approach to leadership. This president who once billed himself as an intellectual seeker has largely cut himself off, while in office, from new ideas and new discussions.”

He dislikes debates over policy. “It’s not just Congress; he’s distanced himself from his own cabinet. Early on his advocates let it be known that he loves big policy debates. But in fact the big sloppy one that his administration had over Afghanistan—which spilled scandalously into the news in 2009-10—was so traumatic that it turned out to be one of the last. ‘He thinks dissent is messy,’ says one long-time ally who is familiar with many administration deliberations.”

He rejects outside economic advice. “Even after the biggest economic setback since the Great Depression, progressive economists found themselves cut out, or invited to the White House once or twice for pro-forma dinners but never again—an experience not unlike Obama’s one-off golf game with Boehner.”

He does not know how to work with political opponents. “Thanks in large part to his sudden and meteoric rise, Obama also never had to learn the basic skills of socializing with his political enemies.”

HE REFUSES TO LEAD, DAMNIT. “The problem is that this president doesn’t seem to possess the skills or the desire to get enough votes—full stop. He certainly hasn’t tried very hard to woo wayward members of the opposite party, as many presidents before him have done. And he’s certainly not going to make much progress by spending five hours a day addressing a little white ball—and no one else—on Martha’s Vineyard.”

How convenient that Obama’s enjoyment of playing golf with his friends so clearly demonstrates all of the common Beltway criticisms of his administration — that if he ate lunch with Paul Ryan or played cornhole with Ted Cruz or watched Sharknado with Mitch McConnell, much legislation would pass. If that were true, he would have done those things. If he could close deals with John Boehner on the golf course, then he would close deals with John Boehner on the golf course.

But it’s clear why he can’t close deals with John Boehner on the golf course: because that’s not how contemporary politics works! Hirsch naively writes about how LBJ used to close deals on the golf course, so why can’t Obama? That’s because Lyndon Johnson was president in the 1960s, when (a) the country wasn’t as polarized and (b) there wasn’t as much media surveillance over Washington’s every doing. “Back room deals” on high-profile legislation don’t exist anymore, because there’s no such thing as a back room in which to hide anymore, and members of Congress no longer follow their leaders’ orders in lockstep. John Boehner and Barack Obama don’t need to play more rounds of golf together in order to better understand each other’s thinking. They understand each other pretty well already and have determined that their political incentives very rarely line up.

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...