Imagine if a hurricane ripped through the Florida coast, killing hundreds, while President George W. Bush was traveling overseas. He would respond by using the presidential crisis management response field manual. The president releases a statement of support, calls the governor of Florida to offer assistance, and orders the FEMA director to take control of the emergency. This sounds pretty reasonable. After all, he is overseas and there is very little he can do until he returns. But then, Bush gets the royal treatment and plays a highly publicized game of cricket with the Indian Prime Minister. The photos show the American president having a blast. Bush now looks out of touch, and the Democratic Party wallops him with this charge for two weeks in the media.
When a mile-and-a-half tornado rips through the town of Joplin, Mo., killing 122 people, and as the death toll rises, President Obama follows the same playbook. Instead of keeping the tragedy on his mind, he oddly chooses to play ping pong with the English Prime Minister David Cameron. The photo says three words: out of touch. But the difference is that Republicans don’t pounce. The photo-op does the damage all on its own.
Obama plays ping pong after the worst tornado in 58 years hits the United States. Obama plays ping pong while the Senate votes down his budget. Obama plays ping pong while the Senate Democrats take a pass at saving Medicare and turn it into a political football. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]
The president’s budget was largely panned for not taking on entitlements and skyrocketing spending, so it was not a surprise that it failed. What is fascinating is that, while Obama is in England playing ping pong and dining with the queen, President Bill Clinton steps up to the plate. He publicly chastises his own party for not sharing responsibility with Republicans to find ways that will save Medicare.
Why weren’t Republicans behaving like the other side and ridiculing the president for being so out of touch during this tragedy? Where were the press conferences and the speeches on the House or Senate floor? To go down this road would dishonor all those who had lost their lives or who are now missing in Missouri. And besides, Republicans are too busy figuring out ways to force the other side to join them in their effort to cut spending and rein in entitlement programs. Instead of criticizing the president’s lack of sensitivity, they rightly scorned the Democratic political strategy. [Vote now: Should Paul Ryan's budget plan become law?]
It is obvious that the often used playbook on scaring seniors is set for the 2012 elections. Republicans will have to spend lots of time and money clearing this up. Going down this road might work in a few races for one or maybe two more cycles. Hopefully, more Democrats really listened to Clinton’s wise words and have come to the understanding that America is on the brink of a financial disaster. World leaders gave Obama an earful about this. If our country goes down, so do countless others.
Today, there is much more to the future of our country than simply the same partisan election cycle at stake. Republicans won back the House to change the direction of Washington, but they have run into a Democratic wall of status quo. Failure to make tough decisions now will mean tough and painful decisions sooner rather than later. And if we don’t try, I hear the Chinese are known to play a much meaner game of ping pong.
Corrected 5/26/11: The original version of this blog's headline misidentified the natural disaster.