ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md. -- The basic rationale for President Obama's campaign last year was that he would be, in almost every way, the exact opposite of his predecessor. But there is one trademark George W. Bush policy that I wouldn't mind if Obama would start following.
Bush, famously, gave up golf in the name of honoring fallen U.S. soldiers (and was resoundingly mocked for it). Obama, on the other hand, seems to hit the links as often as he can -- which can make for boring days when Salon's shift in the White House press pool falls on weekends. As it has today.
A small pool of reporters follows the president around whenever he leaves the White House (and also occasionally provides the only press coverage of events at the White House, if the president is in a room that's too small to accommodate the entire press corps). On days without any pre-planned news events, though, the pool's job is essentially to babysit the president of the United States. A print reporter, reporters from the AP, Reuters and Bloomberg, sometimes magazine and radio reporters, a handful of photographers and a TV news crew all pile into a couple of big black vans and ride around in the presidential motorcade. The point is to make sure the press is always on the scene if the president makes any news; for things like golfing, with no actual news value, we're mostly here in case the motorcade gets in an accident on the way to and from the White House.
And in fact, when Obama goes off to play, the press doesn't even get within eyeshot of the presidential game. Actually, though the White House says Obama is golfing, as far as the press knows, he could really be off flying a fighter jet, buzzing the Capitol to convince recalcitrant lawmakers to get moving on health care. That's unlikely, but you get the point.
Assuming he's really golfing, right now Obama is off at one of the three golf courses at Andrews. The reporters on duty today, meanwhile, are camped out in the food court at the base PX, where our entertainment options are basically limited to the day's papers and deciding whether to eat lunch at Charley's Grilled Subs, Robin Hood Sandwich Shoppe, Taco Bell, Anthony's Pizza or Captain D's Seafood. (Obama's food choices aren't necessarily much better: he can get a pastrami and cheese sandwich if he ponies up $5.95, according to the Andrews Web site.) ESPN is showing women's soccer on one TV, and the NFL Network is showing a months-old game between the Colts and the Chargers on another. The press has been holding here for about an hour and a half, and we're likely to be here for a while longer, if Obama's previous rounds of golf are any guide.
All in all, the whole thing is a bit of a drudge. Critics like to complain about the pack journalism in the White House press corps, but pool duty takes it to a whole new level -- there's actually no pack mentality, because every other reporter in Washington is off enjoying their Sunday, but there's even less "reporting" going on for those of us doing it. So given all that, why does Salon participate in the pool? Because sitting around for a few hours once a month isn't a bad way to stay in touch with White House aides, and because it's only fair to help out in the pool rotation -- after all, we get the pool reports daily. But it would certainly be a little less of a chore if the president didn't like golfing quite as much.